Community activists anticipate record demand for home heating assistance
December 25, 2008
The Connecticut Association for Community Action held a press conference in Hartford last week to raise the alarm on home heating assistance, and to outline the programs they have to provide aid.
"We have never seen so many people requiring assistance as we are seeing this year," said CAFCA Chairman James Gatling. "Across the state the number of people seeking services is up more than 44 percent, which is clearly a sign of the struggling economy."
There are 12 Community Action Agencies — the state's federally designated anti-poverty agencies — underneath the umbrella of the CAFCA. They are intended to be one-stop shopping for people seeking help for heating bills, food, housing, jobs, education, health and legal issues and programs for seniors.
"The CAAs are on the front lines, and they see firsthand what that need is and how people are struggling," said CAFCA Executive Director Edith Karsky. "This year, people who in the past likely never dreamed they would require some help are now showing up at our doors."
All 169 cities and towns in Connecticut are covered by one of the Community Action Agencies, but Karsky says the agencies don't have much name recognition in the state.
"We've never done any public relations about what we do," said Karsky. "We're trying so hard to keep our agencies and communities going; we don't take the time for public relations."
Karsky said this lack of recognition was one of the main reasons behind the high-profile press conference in the Legislative Office Building last week. She said she used the opportunity to explain "who you can call to get correct answers."
"We just finished putting together an information brochure on all 12 agencies, with phone numbers, e-mail addresses and lists of services," said Karsky.
You can go to cfca.org and click on "Member Agencies" in the left-hand column for complete information on the 12 agencies — located in Willimantic, Bridgeport, Bristol, New Haven, Danbury, Hartford, Stamford, New Britain, Waterbury, Norwalk, Jewett City and Derby — and the programs they provide.
"Most of our funding is federal funding," said Karsky. "We are able to leverage federal and state dollars with private and philanthropic donations. We are very good at stretching our dollars to do more with less."
In 2006-2007, the Community Action Agencies statewide helped nearly 300,000 people, half of them adults, ages 18 to 54. Nearly 40 percent of the families were living below the poverty line, with 17 percent living in severe poverty at 50 percent or less of the federal poverty line. (The federal poverty line, as of 2008, is $21,200 for a family of four.)
"These are people struggling to make ends meet in a state which has a very high cost of living," said Karsky. ¦