In a typical year, Operation Fuel, the organization which helps residents pay their home heating bills, starts taking applications Dec. 1.
This year is anything but typical.
The state is running a $466 million budget deficit and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell has proposed taking $4.25 million from Operation Fuel to help balance the state budget.
Rell’s proposal worries Operation Fuel’s Executive Director Patricia Wrice.
“Why are they always looking to balance the budget on the people who can least afford it?” Wrice asked in a phone interview last week.
She said the state will allow Operation Fuel to carry forward $750,000 into 2010, but not the full $5 million in unspent funds from 2009.
The $5 million in state funds would go help those who don’t qualify for the federal funds, Wrice said. And every single penny would go to homeowners. None of it would be spent on administrative costs, Wrice emphasized.
The governor’s budget office said it will allow the organization to keep $750,000 of the $5 million it wants to carry forward to 2010. The governor has already rescinded $250,000.
Jeffrey Beckham, spokesman with the governor’s budget office, said last week that the bulk of the state’s funding comes from the federal government. He said this year the state will be receiving $100 million in federal funds.
Wrice is quick to point out that the $100 million is $40 million less than the state received last year and she worries the demand this year will be greater. Operation Fuel does not distribute these federal funds. The state administers the federal funds.
While private donations also help contribute to the organization’s budget, they pale in comparison to both state and federal funding sources, she said.
When Operation Fuel kicked off its fundraising campaign its goal was to raise $1.7 million this winter. But on Monday the organization increased the goal to $6 million, in an effort to make up for the absence of state funding.
In 2008 when the state was running a surplus it gave $8 million to Operation Fuel, Beckham said. He said the $5 million it’s seeking to carry forward to 2010 comes from that $8 million.
“We don’t believe they need $4.75 million,” Beckham said last week.
Last year the organization gave out $6 million in energy assistance to more than 13,000 Connecticut households, Wrice said.
Wrice is worried that if Operation Fuel can’t raise enough money this winter that many families and senior citizens, who don’t qualify for any government assistance, will have no where to turn for energy assistance.
“Does it take a tragedy to make people pay attention,” Wrice said Friday.
Due to the uncertainty with the state budget Operation Fuel won’t begin to accept applications until Jan. 4. However, the General Assembly doesn’t need to approve the governor’s decision to take the entire $4.25 million from the organization. It will have to approve about $2 million of it.