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CT lawmakers OK $17 million in state COVID funds to heat homes

Marion Dantzler of South Carolina Heating Fuel delivers heating oil to a building in Harlem January 12, 2010 in New York City.
Mario Tama
/
Getty Images North America
Marion Dantzler of South Carolina Heating Fuel delivers heating oil to a building in New York .

Connecticut lawmakers approved $17 million in state COVID relief dollars Wednesday to help meet the growing call among Connecticut families for energy and heating assistance.

Lawmakers in the State House of Representatives and Senate voted in favor of appropriating the COVID funds to the federally-backed Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It provides financial home energy and heat aid to qualifying residents.

However, Connecticut needs to prepare for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars’ expiration at the end of this year, Republican State Rep. Jay Case said.

“This is our last time for federal dollar infusion of ARPA funds,” Case said. “We have to be very careful in how we calculate this going forward. Hopefully we can get people back to work, and where they don’t need this assistance.”

Applications in Connecticut for LIHEAP are up about 9% over last year, Democratic State Rep. Jillian Gilchrest said.

Connecticut should consider an annual appropriation for LIHEAP, according to Gilchrest, who chairs the state’s Human Services Committee.

“We might as a state want to look at should this become a regular thing,” Gilchrest said. “There are other states that contribute to LIHEAP. But yes, our hope would be that the feds would step up.”

As of Jan. 13, more than 80,000 households applied for energy assistance, more than 65,000 of which were approved.

Of the approved $17 million, most will go toward LIHEAP, with $3.5 million reserved for nonprofit Operation Fuel, the nation’s oldest fuel fund.

For months, Operation Fuel executives lamented the lack of funding needed to keep up with applications.

It received about 3,500 applications for fuel assistance for the summer/fall application period, which opened at the beginning of August and closed in mid-October, more than a month earlier than the intended November closure.

Connecticut Speaker of the House Matt Ritter said he is unsure how quickly the newly-approved funds will be disseminated for households, but applicants previously denied can reapply.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.