State optimistic about heating assistance funds

Washington, D.C. — Despite a federal spending decrease, Connecticut officials are confident that they have enough money to keep low-income residents warm throughout the winter.

“I am pleased to report that the latest outlook for LIHEAP (the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) is far more encouraging than it was a year ago,” said Roderick L. Bremby, commissioner of the state Department of Social Services, in testimony last week before Connecticut’s Appropriations, Human Services and Energy and Technology committees.

Before Congress adjourned in September, it passed a continuing resolution — a stopgap measure to keep the government functioning until Congress returns to Washington — that devoted $3.47 billion to LIHEAP. The program provides financial assistance to families earning less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. The intent is to help meet their heating needs during winter.

Connecticut officials expect to receive $79.5 million in LIHEAP block grant funds this year. That combined with the $7.95 million in fiscal year 2012 LIHEAP carry-forward funds, an estimated $450,000 in LIHEAP leveraging funds — money provided by the federal government to states that find non-federal funds to supplement their heating assistance program — and $275,000 in vendor refunds, officials believe that should be sufficient to address heating needs of the state’s low-income residents.

“With our total estimated funding about $88.2 million, we propose to assist approximately 117,861 households,” Bremby said.

Carry-forward funds are available because money was not used in last year’s unusually mild winter.

“It’s not unusual to have carry-forward funds available. The federal government generally allows states to carry forward a certain amount from winter to winter,” explained state Department of Social Services spokesperson David Dearborn.

Although $3.47 billion is the same amount allocated to LIHEAP in Fiscal Year 2012, it is a decrease from the $4.7 billion in 2011 and the peak funding level of $5.1 billion in 2010. The 2013 funding amount is higher than the $3.02 billion recommended by President Obama.

In response to last year’s funding decrease, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in April signed a bill that would enhance the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program, which provides assistance to households considered vulnerable. The changes allowed CEAP recipients to receive matching funds from utility companies for additional energy assistance.

CEAP previously covered households earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, if they included someone elderly or disabled. This year, the definition of a vulnerable household has been expanded to include families with children under age 6.

“This is a technical modification that will allow us to provide increased benefits to approximately 2,160 households with young children,” Bremby said.

While the social services department appears optimistic about funding levels going forward, congressional delegates from states with harsh winters have been taking measures to ensure that funding levels will be adequate in the future.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, is co-sponsoring H.R. 6533, which would establish minimum levels of assistance for certain states under LIHEAP. Other co-sponsors represent other New England states, New York and Alaska.

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