If faced with the choice to feed your family or keep them warm, which would you choose?  If you had to choose between buying medicine and paying your light bill, what would you do? For thousands of families across Connecticut, these are the cold realities they face each and every day during the winter months.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration ranks Connecticut as the state with the third highest average retail electric rate, just behind Alaska and Hawaii.  And, according to the 2016 Home Energy Affordability Gap study, limited income households owe $1,241 more in energy bills than they can afford to pay.  Throughout the year, they are in crisis mode―forced to decide between paying their energy bills and sacrificing other needs like child care and medicine, or risking their lives to stay warm by using dangerous methods of heating their homes.

Connecticut’s Community Action Agencies (CAAs), the state’s antipoverty safety net, know that electricity and heat are necessities, not luxuries. Through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), they help more than 100,000 households statewide pay their energy bills and put approximately $80 million back into the economy.  LIHEAP gives struggling Connecticut families access to affordable home energy solutions and the opportunity to address and offset the cost of other basic needs, resulting in a positive impact on their overall health, safety, and wellness.

While LIHEAP is a critical and necessary resource to those in need, it sometimes just isn’t enough.  And, starting in February of next year, Eversource will begin reporting customers to the credit bureau that are late in paying their energy bills―a practice that will put families into an economic purgatory that will last for years.  This is unacceptable. Penalizing and stigmatizing the poor is not the answer.

Now is the time for us to take serious action, as there is an overdue need for an in-depth analysis at overall utility costs for limited income residents.  Some states, including California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas, require electric companies to offer discounted rates to their low-income customers based on household income.  In a state with one of the highest electric costs in the country, tens of thousands struggle every day to afford their electric bill.

We cannot continue to threaten the health and safety of Connecticut’s most vulnerable population.  Lawmakers must develop and enact a fair and reasonable electric rate policy right here at home, and Connecticut’s CAA Network is ready and willing to help make that happen.

Edith Pollock Karsky is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Association for Community Action (CAFCA), the umbrella organization for Connecticut’s Community Action Agencies, the statewide network of antipoverty agencies that serve more than 357,500 people statewide per year. To apply find your local CAA and apply for energy assistance, visit www.cafca.org/our-network.

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