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Possible $1B to Help Low-Income Residents With Heating

A short-term funding bill from Congress could allot as much as $1 billion to help low-income Americans offset home heating assistance amid rising energy costs. If approved, Connecticut could receive $20 million.

(TNS) — As much as $1 billion from Congress, double what President Joe Biden has requested, would boost home heating assistance for low-income Americans who will struggle this winter with skyrocketing energy costs.

Connecticut would receive about $20 million, according to a spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont, in the short-term funding bill known as a continuing resolution that Congress will likely vote on this week. That would be a 25 percent increase in federal funding of nearly $80 million already approved by state legislators.

The issue, a flashpoint between Democrats and Republicans in Hartford, could be resolved with the additional federal money.

U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney, D-2, and Chellie Pingree, a Maine Democrat, led New England colleagues asking the House and Senate Appropriations committees to add money to heating assistance as the price of natural gas and home heating oil soars.

It helps that two New Englanders are in key positions, Courtney said in an interview. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Congress has approved money for the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program in supplemental spending bills in the past, but the stopgap funding bill is a “good opportunity to get LIHEAP out quickly,” Courtney said.

In the most recent funding, Congress earmarked about $3.9 billion for low-income heating assistance. The budget before Congress would increase heating assistance by one-fourth.

State lawmakers in late August approved a home heating assistance plan with less federal money than last year. The General Assembly’s Appropriations, Energy and Technology and Human Services committees backed a plan by Lamont to spend $79.2 million, down from $140.1 million last year due to pandemic aid and $81.6 million in 2019, before COVID-19.

Federal pandemic money is no longer available this year and as energy prices climb, more residents qualify for financial help.

Lamont and the governors of the five other New England states asked leaders of the congressional appropriations committees to allocate at least $500 million that Biden requested.

“More than any other region of the country, New England households are dependent upon expensive delivered fuels,” they wrote.

Energy prices have soared following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a large supplier of natural gas. With inflation at a 40-year high, pressing consumers who are coping with rapidly rising costs on most other household expenses, demand for federal heating aid has jumped. The Connecticut Department of Social Services says 96,600 households are projected to require heating assistance this year, up nearly 19 percent from 2019, before the pandemic.

“If prices are still draining the funds at a breakneck pace Congress can revisit it again,” Courtney said.

Republicans in the General Assembly have twice called on majority Democrats to call a special legislative session to add heating assistance funding. Democrats have rejected the idea, calling it a political move less than two months before Election Day. Lamont, a Democrat, also had said the legislature can take up the matter in January when the 2023 session is set to begin.

©2022 Hartford Courant. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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