Noting that the State of Connecticut is “literally leaving people out in the cold,” Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly today testified at a legislative public hearing in support of bolstering Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding.
“The administration and the majority touted a major state income tax cut this year, but I want you all to consider this fact: Many vulnerable households effectively could lose all of their tax relief – and more – unless state officials act to fix heating assistance,” Sen. Kelly told an Aug. 28 joint hearing of the Appropriations, Human Services and Energy & Technology Committees.
Sen. Kelly told the committees that Connecticut’s poorest families on emergency heating assistance could get nearly $1,000 less in government aid this winter.
“To put it in perspective: this year’s benefit is only 28% of what it was two years ago!” Sen. Kelly said. “The solution? Connecticut can afford to help all those in need to stay warm. While state government’s coffers are full, there’s a substantial part of our state that’s struggling economically. Refusing to help on the grounds that it’s ‘Washington’s responsibility’ is a callous, cold-hearted policy.”
Sen. Kelly noted how Republicans and energy assistance advocates sounded the alarm about heating assistance funding last fall. Republicans predicted the $94 million in LIHEAP funds originally available for Connecticut in the winter of 2022-23 would be insufficient and argued that a budget closer to $200 million was needed to meet the demand.
Republicans tried during the committee process last August to allocate about $110 million in state ARPA funds to support winter heating assistance, but Democrats rejected that measure before settling on $30 million at year end.
“However, at that time I warned my colleagues that unless we amend the benefit levels too, the $30 million will go unused,” Sen. Kelly said.
“Tragically, in March, we learned that none of the additional $30 million that had been committed toward heating assistance had been spent. None! That was a terrible abdication of duty on the part of state government – literally leaving people out in the cold. It is unconscionable that the $30 million we authorized to help people in need went unused. We are talking about seniors, the disabled, and families in and near poverty. Imagine how many needy residents would have been helped by that money? Imagine how many people slipped further into poverty by that failure to allocate the $30 million?”
Sen. Kelly highlighted stories of how plummeting heating assistance is negatively impacting struggling Connecticut families and taking a toll on their mental health. He noted how Derby-based human services group TEAM Inc. in January said it received more than 4,600 applications for the energy assistance program, a 35 percent increase from the same period last year.
“Does anyone think this unsustainable trend is miraculously going to reverse itself this winter?” Sen. Kelly asked. “We must act to help these asset limited, income challenged (ALICE) families and we must act to prevent tragedies from happening. Bottom line: The administration and the majority must acknowledge these facts that Republicans have and will continue to raise. Republicans will continue to be the voice of families in need until they are heard. These are seniors on fixed income, the disabled, and families in need. These are human beings. Don’t tell me ‘We can’t afford it.’ Lives hang in the balance. We can’t afford not to do it.”