Fuel funds short, long winter ahead

Thursday, January 19, 2012
Republican American
Waterbury, CT

Rose Langley has plenty to worry about, from the responsibility of raising two daughters on her own, to keeping up with demands at work.

But until this year, access to home heating fuel was never a problem. Then, last fall, the federal government made drastic cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps needy families obtain heat at little or no cost.

The program is administered in Greater Waterbury and Torrington by New Opportunities Inc. An official at the agency said Tuesday that she believes there are numerous other families in the region at risk of running out of fuel, though there were no firm figures available.

Langley recently received a voucher for a free oil fill-up through the Citizens Energy program, but once that's used, her sources of funding have been exhausted.

Now, Langley just feels lucky each day she has heat.

"These are the stories that pull at your heart strings," said Darlene Tynan, Wolcott's municipal agent. "There's just no source of funding."

Langley, raising two daughters by herself, makes about $23,000 a year. In the past, the federal program has funded her heat for the whole season — even last winter, which was one of the coldest on record.

This year, she'll be lucky if it gets her through the first half of the season. She's keeping her energy consumption low, but expects to run out of oil by February.

"I used to keep the temperature at like 70; now it's at 69," she said.

Langley recently moved from Waterbury to Wolcott for its top-notch schools. She rents a small home on Charles Avenue. She has been able to afford an austere lifestyle in a town with relatively high rents compared to Waterbury. But now, with the threat of prolonged loss of funding for the heat-assistance program, she's rethinking whether it's sustainable.

"It want to stay here as long as I can, but this is really worrying me," Langley said.

At the beginning of the application process, which began in the fall, many people, like Langley, didn't want to believe that their funding would really dry up. Many believed the government would step in at the eleventh hour and offer assistance. So far, that hasn't happened.

Langley said she understands why the government is being forced to reduce spending, but questioned why it comes at the expense of the people most in need.

"When you're at risk of not having heat, it's just not right," Langley said. "It's the wrong thing to cut, it really is."

This year, 18,503 households are receiving energy assistance through New Opportunities, according to Joanne Balaschak, director of energy services for the organization. Many of them are likely in situations similar to Langley's, though Balaschak couldn't provide any numbers Tuesday night.

She said that so many people have been calling New Opportunities' energy hotline that the organization has hired a call center to field the calls.

"We have had to use one for the last few years; there is no way we could take all the calls, it is unbelievable," Balaschak said.

She said she has been told that the state has submitted a proposal to legislators requesting additional funding for people without heat, but she didn't have details. A spokesman for the Department of Social Services decided to comment.

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