Gov. M. Jodi Rell is proposing a record $84 million in winter heating assistance for low-income families, the elderly and families with small children.
Rell said Thursday that she is sending legislative leaders a plan to distribute more financial assistance to eligible families this winter through the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program, which is administered by the state Department of Social Services.
Homeowners and renters whose heat is not included in their rent could receive up to $675, and renters whose heat is included in the rent could receive up to $270.
Families that heat with oil or propane could be eligible for a one-time assistance grant of up to $400. A family that uses those fuels could also receive up to $625 additional if they've exhausted their assistance and face a life-threatening situation.
"No one should be forced to choose between heating and eating, or between staying healthy and staying warm," Rell said in a statement Thursday. "Yet the mounting pressures of energy prices, gasoline prices and food prices have placed an unprecedented burden on more Connecticut families than ever before."
Heating oil prices are expected to be in the $5-a-gallon range this winter, Rell said.
Rell is proposing that households be eligible to receive assistance up to three times this winter, up from twice last year. She is also proposing that funding for furnace repairs and replacements be increased from $500,000 last year to $1 million this year.
Residents may also find assistance through the state's Contingency Heating Assistance Program, available to households with incomes of up to 60 percent of the median state income. Eligible households receive $300. Households that use deliverable fuel could qualify for a $325 crisis grant — up from $200 last year — through the program.
Both state programs are funded primarily through the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. The state is expecting to receive at least $40.9 million in LIHEAP funding this year, but Rell and other New England governors have been pressing Congress to release more funding for this winter.
Rell is also proposing to use $22 million in state surplus to fund the programs. Legislative leaders are expected to meet with Rell today to discuss how the money should be used.
"We are definitely in agreement with the governor that we should use surplus money for energy assistance," said Derek Slapp, spokesman for the Senate Democrats.
The nonprofit agency Operation Fuel also offers energy assistance with donations made by utility customers on their monthly bills.
Rell's plan to boost spending must be approved by three legislative committees. It has been sent to House Speaker James Amann and Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams.
To learn more about the state's heating assistance programs or to see if you're eligible, call 800-842-1132.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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