HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut state leaders held a public hearing in Hartford Monday to discuss the proposed allocation of an expected $79.1 million in funding from the federal government to help with energy assistance.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP, helps residents afford heat for their homes. To be eligible in the state, a household has to fall at or below 60% of the state's median income.
The Connecticut Energy Assistance Program received a total of around $82 million in 2019, $88 million in 2020, $118 million in 2021, $140 million in 2022, and a proposed $79 million in the 2023 fiscal year which starts October 1st. The state received ARPA money in 2021 and 2022 and CARES money in 2020 and 2021 but neither in 2023. The amount of money given to the state since 2019 has ranged from $73 to $75 million in LIHEAP block grants.
Senator Richard Blumenthal is calling for the federal government to invest more money into the program. He said the current budget draft does add $200 million nationally for a total of about four billion dollars but says that doesn't do enough.
"Fuel prices are skyrocketing. They are out of sight, through the roof," he said. "That increase is inadequate."
Leticia Colon de Mejias with Energy Efficient Solutions said the reason why this continues to be an issue is the rising oil costs to heat homes and the increasing number of people who are needing assistance.
"While incomes have remained the same the cost of fuel, all sources: gas, oil and electricity has risen," she said.
The Department of Social Services said they expect 96,600 households to enroll in energy assistance in 2023, a number that continues to increase. As more people enroll, the amount each person can get decreases.
Three committees met Monday to discuss and vote on the governor's LIHEAP allocation plan. House and Senate Republicans proposed an amendment that would allocate $112.3 million from ARPA funding to increase the total funding to $191.5 million. House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora says the money would have restored funding to meet the demand.
"[Democrats] came out of the pandemic thinking things were going to get better. We’re being hit with 8.5% inflation and high gas prices," he said. "It’s an appropriate use of the money to mitigate this inflation and it should be used."
The committees voted against voting on the amendment because of procedural grounds.
"Washington has failed to protect Connecticut's most vulnerable, and now CT Democrats are once again refusing to ease the painful burdens of President Biden’s historic inflation. Gov. Lamont said he gave people enough tax relief already. CT Democrats have lamented there not being an easy or quick solution; but when Republicans showed exactly that – repeatedly – and offered a better way forward, Democrats would not even hold a vote. This was a slap in the face to the democratic process that sought to suppress debate and silence the voices of the people we represent," Candelora and Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly said in a joint statement.
Democratic Senators Cathy Osten and Norm Needleman said in a joint statement the amendment was "illegal and moot" since no changes can be made to LIHEAP funding amounts and qualifications. They say it would have taken a special session.
"The LIHEAP program approved today on a bipartisan and nearly unanimous basis will provide nearly $80 million in federal home heating assistance this winter to nearly 97,000 Connecticut households. That's 97,000 households whose heating bills will be paid for by President Biden and Congressional Democrats thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act that Democrats voted for two years ago, despite unanimous opposition from Congressional Republicans," the statement read.
Rep. Candelora said they do have the ability to go back and appropriate money, but it would cost more to do so.
When asked about his thoughts on the Republican proposal, Senator Blumenthal said that is a state decision and thinks the federal government should step up so the states don't have to.
"If push comes to shove, using other federal money such as ARPA money to keep people in their homes is really important," he said. "I’m here to make sure the federal government does the right thing."
Applications for energy assistance in the state open on September 1 and end on May 31. To learn more, click here.
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