Rep. Vincent Candelora and Sen. Kevin Kelly speak with reporters Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Republican lawmakers called Thursday for the state legislature to convene an election year special session to supplement a heating assistance program for low income residents in response to an expected drop in federal funding.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration expects federal support for Connecticut’s ​​Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to decline this year with the likely expiration of pandemic-related increases in its budget. As a result, the administration has developed a plan to disperse roughly $79 million to lower income residents as opposed to $140 million last year.

During a state Capitol press conference, Republican legislators began circulating a petition for a special session of the legislature to redirect around $120 million from an account of federal dollars to offset the decline in LIHEAP funding. 

“As we are going door-to-door in this campaign season, we hear constantly from our residents that they are worried how they are going to heat their homes,” Candelora said. “It’s a basic need that people need to have.”

Thursday’s call for a special session follows an unsuccessful attempt by GOP legislators on Monday to amend the Lamont administration’s plan by redirecting those funds. Nonpartisan attorneys and Democratic lawmakers said the amendment was outside the purview of the joint committees, which had met to review the plan. Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly said the committees erred when they did not adopt the amendment. 

“The state’s budget is awash in money while the families across Connecticut are struggling,” Kelly said. “We have an opportunity to, not cut the budget, but to improve and expand the budget and to allow people to heat their homes.”

In an emailed statement, Paul Mounds, Jr., Lamont’s chief of staff, said the energy assistance program was grant-funded by the federal government and he accused the Republicans of making a “political game” out of residents’ wellbeing. 

“If Senator Kelly and Rep. Candelora were concerned about affordability for working and middle-class families, they would have stood with Governor Lamont and Democratic legislators to support a budget that invested in the values of our state by providing affordable childcare, increasing free job training opportunities, and cutting a historic amount of taxes that puts money directly back into people’s pockets,” Mounds said.

At a related event Wednesday, the governor called Republican efforts to bolster the account “premature.” 

“As I’ve said before, we got $79 million, the feds are saying depending on the winter, depending on demand, they may step up and true-up LIHEAP themselves,” Lamont said. “If the winter is bad and the feds don’t step up, I’ve got a session that starts in January, we’ll be able to address that.” 

On Thursday, Republicans said it would be too late to help some residents by the time the legislature reconvened in January. 

“You’re banking on the weather staying warm until January,” Candelora said. “The minute we get a cold patch, we already know, we heard from our action agencies that these programs are over subscribed already so for this governor to suggest that we could take a ‘wait and see’ approach… demonstrates yet again his tone-deaf behavior.”

In a joint statement, Senate President Martin Looney and Majority Leader Bob Duff said that the legislature may convene a special session after campaign season in December to address the looming expiration of an ongoing gas tax holiday and suspension of bus fares. 

Looney and Duff said they were hopeful that Congress would infuse the heating assistance program with more funding and encouraged Connecticut Republicans to contact congressional Republicans to press them for support. 

“However, this is the posturing political game Republicans frequently play,” Looney and Duff said. “They oppose sending federal money to Connecticut, then don’t propose a budget to spend the federal money, and then once elections roll around they demand more federal funding. People are sick and tired of this cynical Republican strategy.”