More expected to seek help paying fuel bills

Saturday, December 15, 2012
Courtesy: 
Waterbury Republican-American
Waterbury, CT

Winter has barely begun, but thousands of Connecticut residents have already applied for fuel assistance.

More people are expected to apply for fuel assistance this year given the state of the economy and the prediction of a winter season of normal temperatures.

New Opportunities Inc., which provides fuel assistance to residents of some 60 towns and cities in New Haven, Litchfield, Fairfield and Hartford counties, has already seen applications from approximately 14,000 households, said Joanne Balaschak, director of the energy program.

Balaschak said that number is about the same as last year.

"We do anticipate an increase due to the economy and the weather," Balaschak said in an e-mail.

Statewide, there is a 13 percent increase in energy assistance applications, Balaschak said.

Two energy assistance programs are available through New Opportunities: the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program and Operation Fuel.

The Connecticut Energy Assistance Program is federally funded and funneled through the state Department of Social Services. However, there is uncertainty with this program as Congress has yet to pass a budget for 2013 that would include money for heating assistance.

Operation Fuel provides emergency energy assistance to lower- and middle-income working families and needy elderly.

Director Patricia Wrice said normally applicants to this program have exhausted their benefits from the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program or are ineligible for it. Last year, this program helped 6,000 households, with more than $2.4 million in grants.

This year the program is hoping to raise $1 million from individual donors, Wrice said.

"It's a fairly ambitious goal. We're hopeful we'll meet it," Wrice said.

Wrice said the fundraising campaign began right after the Thanksgiving holiday, late last month.

Operation Fuel began accepting applications for the winter program on Dec. 3.

Wrice said she expects an uptick in requests as the winter wears on, with the number of applications peaking in mid to late January.

"We'll know in January what we're up against," Wrice said.

For more information, go to: www.newoppinc.org/energy-assistance of call 203-756-8151. To donate to Operation Fuel go to www.operationfuel.org.

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