Demand for heat assistance programs may require additional state or federal funds.

Demand for heat assistance programs may require additional state or federal funds.

As winter approaches, the average price of heating oil in October has increased from $1.97 a gallon in 2020 to $5.71 this year, and with energy costs Hope To add even more, social service advocates are raising concerns that existing energy assistance programs will not be able to meet the public’s needs this year without a significant boost from federal funding.

Deborah Monahan, Executive Director Thames Valley Council for Community Action – The Community Action Agency in New London County – said that at this time last year, the agency had received around 4,400 applications for aid.

This year, they have already seen 5,100 applications – and the state opened applications a month later this year, on September 1 instead of August 1.

Junior Mendez, Energy Program Manager Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut , one who works 25 municipalities – near the New York border in Litchfield and Fairfield counties – said they have seen about 250 more applications this year than last year.

“You can see the difference there already, and my staff tells me all the time that we’re too busy with the energy program,” Monahan said.

When the Connecticut Department of Social Services laid out its plan for the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program this year, it estimated the program would serve about 96,600 — an increase of 92,000 last year and 73,200 a year ago.

As of October 1 – the most recent data available in publication – the state had received 19,593 applications in the first month of accepting them. According to the DSS, the state had received 21,357 applications at the same time last year – with applications open for two months.

Also, as public interest grows, the state has far less funds for its energy assistance program this year than in the last two years. Last year, a record high $140 million was available, of which $62 million was coming in the form of federal COVID aid that has been exhausted.

This year, about $79 million is available for the program from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP—and with more requests for assistance expected by the state, it has reduced the amount each family receives in aid. Have given.

Last year, the minimum amount a family would receive for the season was about $2,000, and now those on the higher end of qualified income will only receive $600 or $700 — about a delivery of oil, Mendez said.

And heating costs have risen dramatically over the past two years: The average price of heating oil during the last week of October in Connecticut rose from $1.97 a gallon in 2020 to $3.36 in 2021 and $5.71 this year. For data collected by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

And Connecticut Electric customers are facing a 40 percent increase in their Eversource bills starting in January, with the high price of natural gas increasing the cost of generating electricity in gas-dominated New England. Eversource Gas customers are facing a 20 per cent hike in their bills.

Monahan said that with oil prices ranging from an average of $5.30 to $5.60, even a high gain of $1,890 could buy nearly 400 gallons of oil.

“That’s not a lot of oil for the winter,” Monahan said. “But it’s a good help for people.”

Monahan said there are still a lot of unknowns about the program, primarily how volatile oil prices are — but it’s also unclear how much funding will eventually be available.

More funding could mean increased benefit amounts, or the ability to help more people if enrollment is higher than in the state.

An ongoing resolution to fund the federal government by mid-December included $1 billion in additional LIHEAP funding, including about $20 million to boost Connecticut’s heating assistance program.

But that still leaves the program nearly $40 million short of its funding from last year, proving more of a need this year.

Mendez said it was too late for the program to run out of money and had to stop giving grants. But Michelle James, executive director of Western Connecticut’s Community Action Agency, said they would have to stop providing aid for the season if they award all the money their agency has been allocated, she said.

“We haven’t gotten to that point here in 10 years, but this year could be different,” James said.

“The demand is very high,” Mendez said. “No more money [like in previous years],

Brenda Watson, Executive Director operation fuelsaid she was concerned that the dramatically higher demand for aid would mean a lack of funding for her program.

Operation Fuel is separate from the State Energy Assistance Program. Although both were established in response to the 1979 oil crisis, the LIHEAP program is aimed at people earning less than 60 percent of the state’s median income, while Operation Fuel is primarily aimed at helping those who Not eligible for government assistance, but still struggling to pay for fuel and electricity.

Operation Fuel serves approximately 2,000 homes during the summer to autumn season. This season, Watson said that Operation Fuel had served its 4,000th home about three weeks earlier. Demand has never been so high at this time of year — high demand typically occurs in the “peak winter” months that begin in January, Watson said.

And with the price of oil so high, fuel vendors have asked Operation Fuel to increase its grant money, because the normally maxed out $500 isn’t getting customers very far, Watson said.

“It’s a little scary, because it could mean that we have to withdraw aid in the spring of 2023,” Watson said. “We don’t know this for sure yet, but if we go on this track, we might have to reduce grant money, or turn people away.”

Even with less funding, the $100 million state program dwarfs Operation Fuel’s $6 million budget, but if the state program is forced to turn people away, the demand for Operation Fuel is even greater. Maybe, Watson said.

Despite low funding and a large increase in requests for assistance, Monahan was confident that there would be enough money for the state program to make it through the winter. More federal funding would be a big help, but Monahan said he was confident state lawmakers would step in if they needed to boost the program.

“State legislators in Connecticut know all too well that, if we have a cold winter and no extra federal dollars come in, they’re going to have to take some action,” Monahan said.

Community action agencies said concerns about funding should not deter anyone from applying for help. Anyone who needs assistance can contact their local community action agency To apply, or to apply online. Electric and gas heating customers can also contact their utility company or 211 for other support options.

“We don’t want people to freeze, so we’re here to serve,” James said.

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