On a sunny summer day, it’s easy to forget that winter is just around the corner.  That’s no problem for some, as the thought of winter conjures up happy memories of family gatherings, snowmen, and hot cocoa.

But for more than 300,000 families throughout Connecticut, winter is a time of desperation and danger, because they can’t afford their home energy costs.  Or have to choose between buying food and paying their heating bill.

These are the choices that poor families in Connecticut have to make when the cold months set in. Research from the Children’s HealthWatch shows that infants and toddlers in energy-insecure households are much more likely to be in poorer health, hungry, and at-risk for developmental delays than children living in energy-secure households.

There is some good news, though, in the form of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.  LIHEAP is designed to provide relief for families who cannot afford to keep their homes heated.  LIHEAP is administered by our Community Action Agencies (CAAs), the federally-designated antipoverty agencies.  And families who receive support through LIHEAP are statistically shown to have healthier children–less likely to have growth problems and unhealthy weights and to require hospitalization when seeking emergency department care for acute medical problems.

Congress and President Obama have control over LIHEAP funding, and the General Assembly and Governor Malloy have control over how that money is used once it reaches Connecticut.  With their support, LIHEAP can remain the vital resource it has always been.  But it needs to be protected from cuts, and our state and federal elected officials need to be reminded of its critical importance, even though it may not always be a “front-burner” issue in people’s minds.

LIHEAP saves lives and helps families.  Dr. Deborah A. Frank, director of the Grow Clinic for Children at the Boston Medical Center, founder of Children’s HealthWatch and professor of child health and well-being at Boston University School of Medicine, noted before Congress, “Children will freeze to death before they starve to death, so confronted with the dire risks of dark and cold, parents turn to the only flexible part of a poor family’s budget, the food budget.”

LIHEAP prevents families from freezing or using dangerously jury-rigged appliances to heat their homes.  LIHEAP also helps tens of thousands of recipients who are seniors and thousands more who live with disabilities.

What’s more, LIHEAP is a good investment that helps the economy.  LIHEAP funding goes to businesses-including many small businesses-throughout Connecticut, which in turn helps the low-income families who are eligible for home heating fuel and utility assistance to partially cover their home energy costs.

Protecting LIHEAP funding is more important today than ever.  At its current level, our CAAs assist more than 110,000 eligible households each year-a nearly 30% increase in only five years – and that still doesn’t fully cover the need.  And with the U.S. Department of Energy predicting that energy prices will continue to rise, this means that even flat-funding LIHEAP will leave families vulnerable.

So while winter is the furthest thing from people’s minds in this hot summer, we need to remember that it will be here before we know it.  And we need a commitment now – from our elected leaders at every level – to preserve LIHEAP funding.  Connecticut’s families and economy are more than worth it.

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