A $625,000 check from the Northeast Utilities Foundation Wednesday will help Operation Fuel serve 6,000 more households this year bringing the total number of households it will serve this year up to 12,000.
The donation, the largest in Operation Fuel’s 34-year history, comes at a time when the federal Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program grant to the state dropped between $33 to $38 million from last year’s level.
Asked if Operation Fuel will be able to help make up the difference, Executive Director Patricia Wrice said, “I don’t think we’ll be able to fill a gap that large.”
“Our purpose is to catch people who fall through the cracks. We don’t have the ability to privately raise funds to fill a $33 million shortfall,” Wrice said. “We’ll do our part as a small private charity.”
Wrice said the need for heating assistance will be greater than last year, but the organization with a $1 million fundraising goal, in addition to the $625,000 donation, will only be able to serve 12,000 households.
“Operation Fuel is looking for long-term solutions to this energy crisis,” Wrice said. “Connecticut has one of the highest energy costs in the nation.”
Operation Fuel will be serving people at 150 to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Two hundred percent of the federal poverty level amounts to about $45,000 a year for a family of four.
The good news is forecasts are predicting the cost of home heating oil to remain stable, Wrice said. Prices had been rising in the past few years.
Jeff Butler, president and Chief Operating Officer of Connecticut Light and Power, said his customers will see a decrease in their electricity bills starting Jan. 1 due to a 14 percent reduction in generation rates the utility was able to procure.
Wednesday was the first day of Operation Fuel’s winter energy assistance program. The maximum grant this winter for families will be $300, according to the press release.
It’s still unclear how the state legislature and Gov. M. Jodi Rell will address what is expected to be a shortfall in the federal heating assistance program.