As published in the Record Journal Wednesday February 15, 2012
By Russell Blair
WALLINGFORD — To address a growing demand, the town has set aside an additional $5,000 for its fuel crisis program, which distributes money to low-income residents who need help paying heating bills.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. requested the money in a letter to the Town Council on Feb. 1 and the funds were approved at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
“Due to the reduction in state energy assistance, the current unemployment situation within our community and the rising costs of fuel prices, we have experienced a large number of needy individuals utilizing the Fuel Crisis program,” Dickinson wrote.
The need locally has been exacerbated by cuts in federal and state fuel aid. Last year, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, was funded at $4.701 billion, with more than $100 million going to Connecticut. This year, federal officials proposed $2.570 billion for the program, a cut of nearly 50 percent. The program was eventually funded at $3.472 billion. Of these funds, Connecticut received $79.531 million.
U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, a New Haven Democrat whose 3rd District includes Wallingford, said when the funds were announced in December that she was disappointed in the cuts.
“In this difficult economy, with sky-high energy prices and cold winters, families throughout the country rely on the LIHEAP program,” De-Lauro said at the time in a statement. “I believe that we have a moral obligation to care for our most vulnerable citizens, and that means fully funding the LIHEAP program. ... We cannot leave American families out in the cold.”
Wallingford isn’t alone in an increased demand for fuel assistance. Patricia Wrice, executive director of Operation Fuel, which helps low-income residents with their heating bills, said demand is as high as it was last year, but there’s less money to go around.
“We’ve had federal benefits reduced by $30 million,” she said.
Wrice said residents have been fortunate that this winter has been warmer than last, but there hasn’t been a drop-off in fuel aid demand.
“If we had a winter like last year, it would be a disaster,” she said. “The economy hasn’t bounced back. It could have been a lot worse. The weather kept people safe.”
The Wallingford Fuel Crisis Program account was funded in the amount of $15,589 from town money and private donations for the current fiscal year. As as of Feb. 1, $14,907 had been distributed, leaving little money to spare. “We are very concerned about meeting the fuel needs of a number of our residents and believe that this appropriation will allow us to provide assistance through the remainder of the fiscal year,” Dickinson wrote.