Emergency Energy Assistance Need Heats Up in Summer


The forecast may call for  90 degrees, but when Operation Fuel  kicked off its limited energy assistance program,  within the first hour, 24 applications had been filed.  Eligible recipients receive their money in 24 hours
Patricia Wrice, Operation Fuel’s executive director, said, “Decisions can be made in 24 hours because it’s a crisis program. We turn it around rather quickly.”
A study commissioned by Operation Fuel demonstrates just how much of a struggle that is. In 2011, Connecticut’s annual home energy affordability gap was $505 million. Lower-income families and senior citizens currently face a home energy affordability gap – the difference between what households can afford to pay and what they actually owe for their annual energy bills – of nearly $2,200 per household. In 2010, the state’s annual energy affordability gap was $480 million or about $2,000 per household.
Wrice emphasized that this is emergency assistance only, which is why grants are only awarded once a year.  There is a pool of $500,000, which includes funds from CL&P, the state and private donors. The program runs through Oct. 31, 2012, or until funding runs dry.
Those who received money during the winter can’t benefit from the program during the summer. ” We’re not an entitlement program. We’re an emergency program,” she said.  Operation Fuel is running the program for Connecticut utility customers who are experiencing a financial crisis and either have had their utility service terminated or are in danger of losing their service. The energy assistance program  runs through Oct. 31, 2012.
This emergency assistance is not just for the poor. For a family of four the income level is $61,830, which is 60 percent of the state’s median income. (Click for a chart of median income levels by family size. ) “The economy is affecting a lot of people, especially the low and middle income families.,” she said.
That Oct. 31 date is important because, under state law, utilities cannot shut off power to a person in need, ill, or with a child under 6 from Nov. 1 to May 1. “Many lower-income families and senior citizens on a fixed income are in danger of losing their utility service during the warmer months. Paying their energy bills has become a year-round challenge for quite a few Connecticut households,” said Wrice.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30, Operation Fuel provided $2.275 million in energy assistance to 5500 households in Connecticut. For more information on receiving assistance, go to www.operationfuel.org.