What does a dollar mean to you? For some households it can help to keep their home warm, the lights on, and the food from spoiling.

Since the 1970s, Operation Fuel has raised funds through the add-a–dollar check off box on utility bills.  By law, you can add any amount to your utility bills, check off that it is for Operation Fuel and 100 percent of those additional funds will be used by Operation Fuel to help qualifying low income households pay their utility bills. None of it is withheld for administrative costs. Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating have a shareholder matching program that adds an additional 50 percent to your contribution – stretching your donation even farther.

Operation Fuel raised and distributed $516,284 this way last year.  It amounted to a significant part of their total donations and private fundraising activity.  During the 2009-2010 heating season, Operation Fuel served 6,817 low income households in Connecticut.  More than 1,700 of those households were in the Hartford region.

For our neighbors on fixed incomes, keeping up with utility bills can be a monumental task.  Some households get three bills – one for electricity, one for gas and one for deliverable fuel oil.  Depending on the weather, daily usage, and market forces, those bills can range from expensive to downright unaffordable. 

If a household falls behind in their electricity or gas bills during the winter months, their utilities can be shut-off between May 1 and November 1.  Fuel oil companies can refuse to deliver if there is a back balance due – even in the winter.  Utilities are not a luxury, they are a necessity.  Utility shutoffs can lead to evictions, hazardous conditions or medical emergencies—which lead to even more expensive crisis interventions or preventable hospitalizations.

Operation Fuel provides emergency energy assistance to the elderly, disabled individuals, and low-income working poor families who are facing financial crisis and are not eligible for, or have exhausted, their government benefits. These people have no other resources except Operation Fuel to keep their homes warm and the lights on.

Last year, 93 percent of each dollar spent at Operation Fuel went to their emergency energy assistance program.  They have been a 4 star charity under Charity Navigator for four years. 

I was encouraged to learn about this efficient way to help our neighbors who are struggling to pay their utility bills.  It is easy, leverages additional funds, and gets help to where it is needed the most.  Please consider adding one dollar or more to your utility bill this month, and every month.

Matthew Ritter is a Connecticut state representative for the first district.

State Rep. Matthew Ritter, of Hartford, is Speaker of the House of Representatives.

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