November 22, 2013 — Operation Fuel has released a report about the home energy affordability gap in Connecticut. It found that over 295,000 households can't afford to pay their energy bills, and that there is a lack of resources to address the situation. The affordability gap for these households, which have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, is at about $700 million.
"Many Connecticut families are being forced to choose between paying their energy expenses or paying for food and other basic necessities," Patricia Wrice of Operation Fuel told the media. "This especially is troublesome for households with elderly residents, chronically ill members or young children whose health depends on a warm home in the winter or air conditioning in the summer."
The report also showed that the average low-income household owes about $2,363 more on their energy bill than they can afford. A bill is considered unaffordable if it exceeds six percent of a household's annual income. Operation Fuel pointed out that many low-income families are falling behind on their power bills and could face disconnection of their service. While state law says utilities cannot terminate service between April and November, unpaid balances can continue to increase until disconnections can begin in May.
According to the report, LIHEAP is the primary source of energy assistance in the state. However, while the affordability gap is $700 million, Connecticut is supposed to receive about $76 million in LIHEAP funds. Roger Colton, the author of the report, said it was clear that the "ability of public money to meet this challenge is small and decreasing."
Operation Fuel is a statewide fuel fund that takes donations and tries to help people having trouble heating their homes by providing grants, which average about $500 per household. This winter, the group expects to provide about $3 million in energy assistance to low-income families in Connecticut. The group has seen a decline in donations made through its "Add-a-Dollar" program when consumers pay their monthly utility bills.
As mentioned earlier, Roger Colton (a principal with Fisher, Sheehan and Colton Public Finance and General Economics) authored the report for Operation Fuel. Since 2003, he has compiled an annual Home Energy Affordability Gap report for the entire country. His most recent report, based on 2012 data, found a national affordability gap of almost $38.6 billion. That is an increase of over 200 percent from the initial report in 2003.
Sources: Operation Fuel, media report, Roger Colton