The announcement Tuesday that the federal government is releasing $3.1 billion in low-income heating assistance, of which Connecticut’s take is $72.4 million, couldn’t come at a better time for local social service agencies that deal with the state’s neediest.
“Norwich is the largest city in southeastern Connecticut, and unfortunately we have a lot of people who are out of work,” said Norwich Human Services Director Beverly Goulet. “We don’t have the jobs that we once had. Sadly, I think we are going to see more first-time applicants.”
The LIHEAP funds for southeastern Connecticut are managed through Thames Valley Council for Community Action Inc.’s Connecticut Energy Assistance Program.
This year TVCCA received a little more than $11.3 million to assist low-income households who need help paying for the primary way they heat their home.
Chris Sardo, director of energy and support services at TVCCA, said 5,000 households have applied for assistance.
“This is definitely a record for having people apply this early,” Sardo said. “I think people are being more proactive this year. I think they realize that they are not earning enough or that their unemployment is going to run out.”
Two years ago, 3,878 applications were received by the end of November, said Deborah Monahan, executive director at TVCCA. She said this heating season she expects to receive 10,000 applications.
“What we are finding is that people are either on fixed incomes or they are unemployed and need help paying a variety of bills and in this case it’s their energy bills,” Monahan said. “So if they can get help to pay their fuel, it frees up money to pay for something else.”
The amount of assistance qualified applicants can receive ranges from $350 to $575, depending on income. If people need more help a crisis assistance benefit of $400 is available, and if that runs out an additional $400 safety net benefit can be obtained as well.
Monahan said the first round of fuel delivery will start Thursday.
“People are coming upon hard times, and I would like to think we are helping them,” she said.