Connecticut lawmakers approve $17 million in emergency heating assistance  

State lawmakers stepped in and unanimously approved $17 million in emergency funding.

John Craven

Feb 14, 2024, 11:00 PM

Updated 64 days ago

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There’s fresh snow on the ground and a chill in the air, but Connecticut's home heating assistance funds are almost out of money because of inaction by Congress.
So Wednesday, state lawmakers stepped in and unanimously approved $17 million in emergency funding.
RISING DEMAND, FEWER BENEFITS
Despite a relatively mild winter, approximately 80,000 people had already applied for help paying their heating bills by Jan. 13, according to top lawmakers. That’s 8.6% higher than last year. But as demands rises, federal funding to the federal Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) dropped by 23% – back to pre-pandemic levels.
State lawmakers said they had to act.
“There are folks who have already ran out of their benefits, and so we want to ensure that folks remain warm through April,” said state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest (D-West Hartford).
The $17 million breaks down like this:
  • $13.5 million for the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program (CEAP), which is supposed to be federally-funded
  • $3.5 million for Operation Fuel, an organization that helps customers pay their energy bills
The extra funding does not mean more people qualify or include any added benefits, which were reduced this winter.
“It is 21 degrees outside in Hartford today,” said state Sen. Matt Lesser (D-Middletown). “One hundred and eighty dollars just does not go very far in terms of buying heating oil or other heating sources.”
Lesser blamed Republican leadership in Congress.
“Unfortunately, Speaker [Mike] Johnson has just not provided additional funding,” he said. “Last year, we got supplemental funding from the federal government. This year, there is nothing.”
GOP leaders insist there’s plenty of blame to go around.
“Last I knew, we had a two-party system in the federal government,” said state Rep. Vin Candelora (R-North Branford), the top Republican in the Connecticut House. “I wouldn’t deem it as ‘Republican dysfunction.’ I think clearly it’s a Democrat and Republican dysfunction in Washington.”
WHERE’S THE MONEY COMING FROM?
The emergency home heating infusion won’t cost state taxpayers anything. It comes from unused federal American Rescue Plan funding, which must be spent by the end of this year.
Gov. Ned Lamont signed the bill less than an hour after lawmakers approved it. But he, and leaders from both parties, expressed concerns about the state picking up the tab in future years.
“I think there needs to be a broader conversation with our federal delegation,” said Candelora. “There is a precedent being set today right now – putting in state money. That’s not the way this program should be working.”
Democrats are frustrated, too.
“Our congressional delegation has been loud and passionate advocates for this,” said Connecticut House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford). “If someone can figure out how to pass a bill down there, let us know.”
DIRE NEED
According to a recent report by Operation Fuel, Connecticut's “affordability gap” has jumped 37% in just three years. Nearly half a million households now pay more than they can afford for energy bills.
There is a bright spot though.
This winter, some Eversource and United Illuminating customers can take advantage of a new Low-Income Discount Rate, which shaves 10-50% off their monthly bill.
“Starting in January, the lowest income ratepayers will get a 50% discount on their electric bill,” said Amy McLean, with Avangrid’s Residential Energy Efficiency Program, said on Dec. 7. “And Operation Fuel is working with Avangrid to identify these families.”
RESOURCES FOR HELP
Here's how you can get help paying your heating bill:


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