Congress’ decision this weekend to approve cutting $1.2 billion from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is a mixed bag for Connecticut.
It means Connecticut won’t be receiving as much money as it did last year from the federal government, but it’s more than the three legislative committee’s responsible for allocating the money expected.
When the three legislative committees met in September to determine who would receive the money it estimated the state would receive about $61.6 million, almost $15.22 million more than Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had budgeted. The legislature’s plan would help heat 106,000 homes and offers about $255 in assistance per household. The average benefit received in the previous year was more than $800 per household.
This past year Connecticut spent $115 million on the program thanks to state surplus funds which are no longer available this year. Under the spending plan Congress approved this weekend Connecticut will receive $79.5 million.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said it would be difficult to increase funding for the program over and above what Congress has allocated, but there‘s always an opportunity for Congress to come back and increase the funding.
“I would not be I would not be shocked to see Congress take that up again, after the first of the year when they understand the implications and when some of those congressmen and senators go back to their districts and have to confront senior citizens who are living with some difficulty in the states and districts that they represent,” Malloy said Friday.
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy sent a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Friday asking them to reconsider the LIHEAP cuts.
“This $1.2 billion cut in funding will significantly affect the ability of the LIHEAP program to keep struggling American families warm this winter in states like my own,” Murphy wrote.
He said 98 percent of the 1,203 respondents to a survey he conducted on the matter reported they did not support any cuts to LIHEAP funding.
“While I appreciate the fact that the funding level included in H.R. 2055 represents an increase over the funding proposals offered by both the Senate and the President, we still need to do more to make sure that the voices of those Connecticut residents are truly heard,” Murphy wrote.
President Barack Obama had proposed cutting the program in half, but the House decided to add about $1 billion more to the budget request, which was passed by the Senate on Saturday.
“For the tens of thousands of Connecticut households that will apply for low-income energy assistance this winter, there’s no margin for error when it comes to staying warm,“ Murphy said. “I hope we can work together to ensure continued, bipartisan support for federal low-income energy programs in this season of need.”
The $1.2 billion cut comes just one day after Operation Fuel released its annual energy study, which found the state’s home energy affordability gap has risen to $505 million. That’s up from the $480 million reported in 2010.
“In 2011, LIHEAP provided about $97 million in energy assistance to low-income Connecticut households. Remember, however that the affordability gap is $505 million. So no matter how well you budget, no matter how much you spread, you can’t spread $97 million and have it meet a $505 million need,” Robert Colton, a regional economist, who helped put together the study, said last week.
Higher home heating oil prices have risen in Connecticut over the past year. On average the retail price of home heating oil was $3.99 on Dec. 5 of this year. Last December it was $3.28, in Dec. 2009 it was $2.82, and in Dec. 2008 it was $2.55.