December 17, 2015—Operation Fuel released a report this Wednesday documenting the home energy affordability gap in Connecticut. It found that more than 313,000 low-income households can't afford their energy bills, and that there is a lack of resources to address the situation. The affordability gap for these households, those who have incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, is over $471 million, down from last year's $780 million. That drop is being accredited to falling fuel prices. For the report, an energy bill is considered unaffordable if it exceeds six percent of a household's income. The report states these low-income households have annual energy bills that outstrip their ability to pay by $1,506 per household.
Patricia Wrice, Operation Fuel's executive director, notes that even with fuel prices being more affordable the increasing number of low-income households in the state means even more families were struggling to meet their basic needs. Roger Colton, the economist who prepared the report, points out that these low-income households are finding that they must choose between heating their homes, purchasing groceries, or paying for medication. "It's a housing problem; it's a nutrition problem; and it's a health care problem as well," he states.
The report identifies another rising trend that has interested parties deeply worried. That trend is the rise of households who are considered to be in "deep poverty." Households identified at being in deep poverty have earnings that are less than 50 percent of the federal poverty levels. That means these households are confronted with energy bills that equal nearly 40 percent of their total household income. "These households are in deep, deep crisis," Colton stated.
According to the report, Connecticut's LIHEAP covered only 14 percent of the affordability gap in the past year. They served 102,681 households in 2014 with a maximum benefit of $575 for "vulnerable" households that contained at least one member who could be considered elderly, disabled, or had a child under the age of six. Non-vulnerable households received a maximum benefit of $525. Only households that fall below 60 percent of the state's median income qualify for LIHEAP assistance.
Operation Fuel is Connecticut's only statewide nonprofit energy assistance program. The fuel fund serves households that are in financial crisis, but not eligible for energy assistance from government-funded programs like LIHEAP. Last year, it gave out $3.6 million to more than 8,300 households. The organization's maximum energy grant is $500 per household over a 12-month period.
Sources: LIHEAP Clearinghouse, Operation Fuel, Media Reports