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Health

Energy Assistance Programs Announce Application Criteria

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As Newtown weathers the hot and humid days of August, its local Social Services agency, along with a statewide network of support services, are already looking toward the cold that will descend on the region soon enough, bringing with it the challenge of keeping up with mounting heating costs.

Human Services Director Natalie Jackson said Newtown will begin taking local energy assistance applications on September 16.

“While some larger Community Action Agencies start a bit earlier, we have historically opened the application process mid-September, which works well for our community,” Ms Jackson told The Newtown Bee this week.

She said after September 16, residents can contact Social Services at 203-270-4330 to schedule an appointment to complete the application.

Social Services Coordinator Jacqueline Watson reminds residents that applying for and receiving energy assistance also serves as a pre-qualifier for several other seasonal assistance programs.

Anyone who prefers to apply directly to their regional Community Action Agency can do so now, as these agencies are already accepting energy assistance applications for the 2019-20 heating season.

According to Kelley Jacobson Hall, development, communications, and grants manager for the Connecticut Association for Community Action, the Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut (CAAWC) in Danbury handles Newtown applicants.

Connecticut residents struggling to pay their utility bills can apply for home heating assistance at their local Community Action Agency (CAA). Community Action Agencies are the only nonprofit agencies administering the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program — administered by the Connecticut Department of Social Services — that provides home heating assistance to the state’s most vulnerable residents.

The state’s CAAs administer the program locally in all 169 cities and towns. Newtown Social Services serves as an intake hub for local residents, and then processes those local applications through the Danbury CAA.

Each CAA has application intake sites throughout their service regions, including some local town halls or municipal centers. Customers should check with their local CAA for a complete site listing, to make an application appointment, and to confirm required documentation they will need to bring.

Homeowners and/or renters may apply, and funds may be used to pay for whatever source of heating residents have in their homes. This includes wood, electric, oil, kerosene, or natural gas.

Beginning mid-November, CAAs will certify oil deliveries for those who heat with oil, propane, and deliverable fuels.

Regional CAA Executive Director Michelle James previously told The Bee that applicants can avoid processing delays by ensuring all required documentation is included. She said among the most frequently missing or incomplete pieces of documentation are those related to income, assets, and bank accounts.

“Anyone 18 and over, we need to verify income,” Ms James said. “That means we need pay stubs for the four weeks prior to date of their application.” In addition, she said anyone 18 and over who has zero income must complete a separate zero income form.

“Regarding assets, we need to see all the most recent bank statement within 30 days of application. That means all bank accounts — checking, savings, CDs, stocks, bonds. The only thing we don’t look at is 401k information,” Ms James said.

The CAA staff also must receive copies of all electric bills, even if the applicant is heating with other fuels.

“We need to get a full picture of their energy burden,” Ms James said.

Failure to supply all the required documentation could delay processing or force an applicant to reapply at a later date, she added.

Additional information about your local CAA and energy assistance is available at cafca.org or by calling Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut (CAAWC) at 203-748-5422.

Operation Fuel, Connecticut’s only year-round, statewide nonprofit emergency energy assistance organization, has found home energy costs continue to present an overwhelming burden for more than 300,000 low- and moderate-income households.

According to 2017 data — the latest available — there is a $450 million home energy affordability gap for Connecticut households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

The affordability gap is the portion of their energy bills that more than 320,000 Connecticut households cannot afford to pay, not the entire amount that they owe. On average, each household with incomes at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, owes $1,404 more than they can afford to pay in annual energy bills.

Utility customers can help in one small way by donating $1 or more when they pay their utility bill, whether via paper bill or electronically. Operation Fuel’s Add-a-Dollar program has been a significant source of funding since the organization was established in late 1983.

Connecticut gas and electric utilities, which serve more than 75,000 customers, participate in Operation Fuel’s Add-a-Dollar program, and some utility companies have a shareholder-matching program and match a percentage of Add-a-Dollar funds raised.

Customers can also contact their local utility companies to donate more than $1 or to become enrolled in an automatic Add-a-Dollar program. Some utility companies, like Eversource, provide a summary of what customers have donated to the Add-a-Dollar program on their billing statement in a note showing year to date donations.

While the home energy affordability gap has been going up and down over the past few years, the number of households affected has remained consistent at more than 300,000.

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