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CT’s Operation Fuel stretched thin as need increases and funds diminish

Marion Dantzler of South Carolina Heating Fuel delivers heating oil to a building in Harlem January 2010 in New York City.
Mario Tama
Getty Images North America
Marion Dantzler of South Carolina Heating Fuel delivers heating oil to a building in Harlem.

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More than 400,000 Connecticut families are struggling to afford heat and electricity. And one program designed to help them is struggling to meet the demand.  

Operation Fuel, the country’s oldest fuel fund, is being inundated with requests for heating and energy assistance, according to the organization’s Chief Programs Officer Gannon Long.

“The affordability gap between what people can pay for their energy needs, and what they're being asked to pay is increased 37% in just two years,” Long said.

The nonprofit received about 3,500 applications for fuel assistance for the summer/fall application period, which opened at the beginning of August and closed last week, more than a month earlier than the intended November closure.

“We see an increase in demand a couple of years ago,” Long said. “Our program season was four months, this year we had to condense it down to two. And we're seeing that as being the new normal as we know.”

The increase in requests for aid is a growing trend, as Operation Fuel was also forced to close its winter/spring application period earlier this year.

During the winter/spring season, Operation Fuel served more than 10,000 Connecticut families, which is more than the organization typically serves in a year.

Inflation, increased utility costs and level funding of the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), are contributing causes of Operation Fuel’s struggle to meet the demand for heating and energy assistance, according to Long.

“I think we should all begin to understand this is our new normal. Whatever the rate was set in 2017 or 2018 for LIHEAP funding, we're not in that place anymore and that is not going to be adequate,” Long said. “Every time that whole system is stretched, Operation Fuel is going to see an increase.”

Long said federal funds should be increased to match the need.

This year, the number of Connecticut residents applying for LIHEAP aid is expected to increase 20% over last year, according to Claire Coleman, Consumer Counsel and chair of Connecticut’s Low Income Energy Advisory Board.

“That presents a huge challenge with the level of funding on the baseline LIHEAP allocation,” Coleman said. “This is home heating, heating, oil, electricity, food, housing, households just simply need more assistance to be able to pay for essential services.”

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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