This story is part of CT Mirror Explains, an ongoing effort to distill our wide-ranging reporting into a "what you need to know" format. To dive deeper on any element of this topic, use the links in the story.
Original reporting by Keith Phaneuf and Lisa Hagen. Compiled by Gabby DeBenedictis.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federal program that provides relief to help low-income families cover winter heating and other energy costs.
In Connecticut, LIHEAP funds the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program, which opened its application period on Sept. 1 for the current winter season.
Here’s what you need to know.
Who qualifies for energy payment assistance through LIHEAP?
Households are eligible if they have an income at or below 60% of the state median income. For a family of four, that median income is around $76,400.
Those who qualify can receive between $250 to $600 based on income, household size and if that household has a vulnerable member.
How is it funded?
LIHEAP is traditionally funded with federal grants.
Connecticut received $114 million from Washington for LIHEAP this winter — an existing $94 million federal commitment, plus $20 million authorized through the $1.7 trillion spending plan the U.S. House enacted in December to fund the federal government through Sept. 30.
This year, the state of Connecticut will provide additional funding to the program if necessary.
In November 2022, the Connecticut General Assembly conditionally committed close to $30 million in state funds — specifically, federal pandemic relief Connecticut hasn’t expanded yet — to supplement energy assistance this winter.
The money won’t be expended until after the $114 million in federal money has been exhausted.
How will the additional $20 million from Washington and $30 million from the state be used?
The funding will translate into more aid, on average, per household, Department of Social Services Commissioner Deidre Gifford announced in December.
State officials crafted a distribution plan in late August based on the initial $94 million that offers a basic benefit of $250 to $600 per household, depending on income and other factors.
Some families also qualify for one to three additional “crisis” payments to help them get through the winter. The additional funding will be used to create one more $430 “crisis” payment for each family.
Is that enough money for this winter?
The $114 million federal allocation is a far cry from what some energy assistance advocates say will be needed to keep many low- and middle-income families from sacrificing food and medicine this winter to keep their homes from freezing.
And the $30 million state officials reserved for the program may not be enough either.
Even with the announcement that needy families could seek the fourth $430 crisis payment — and potentially receive up to $2,320 in total this winter — that remains well below the $2,980 peak relief level granted two years ago.
And it’s not even half of the $4,825 peak support the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program offered last winter, even though fuel prices are now much higher.
That 2021-22 program was an outlier, though, enhanced with emergency federal pandemic relief to help families adjusting to the expiration of enhanced federal unemployment benefits and tax credits, also ordered during the worst of the coronavirus outbreak.
How can I apply for funding?
Eligible households can apply for Connecticut Energy Assistance Program funding online, by phone, by email, by mail, or in person at a local Community Action Agency (local CAAs can be found in the table here).
The online application can be found here.