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As more CT residents struggle to pay utility bills, demand for assistance continues to surge

A driver  delivers heating oil to a home in Port Jefferson Station, NY in 2016.
John Paraskeva / Newsday via Getty Images
Newsday RM
Port Jefferson, N.Y.: Rod Roetheli, a driver for the Swezey Oil Co., delivers heating oil to a home in Port Jefferson Station, New York, on December 1, 2016. (Photo by John Paraskevas/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

Connecticut residents are struggling to afford basic utilities like heat and electricity as the gap between what residents are asked to pay and what they can afford grows.

That’s the finding of a new report from Operation Fuel, an organization that provides emergency financial assistance to families struggling with their utility bills. The organization says with bills increasing, demand for help is skyrocketing.

During the most recent application period, which ran from August to October, Operation Fuel says the number of families seeking assistance doubled, a trend that was seen earlier this year as well.

“Our recent summer/fall program … was about two months, and we received roughly 4,000 applications in that time,” said Gannon Long, the agency’s chief programs officer. “The year prior, we had gotten 4,000 applications over about four months.”

Demand is rising due to a growing affordability gap, as the organization says energy bills across the state are becoming harder for people to pay.

“That affordability gap grew 37% in just the three years since our last study and that doesn’t account for the rate increases last year, other things that maybe have made that actually worse,” Long said.

The annual report looked at the costs of housing, energy, water and transportation in each municipality and compared them to median household incomes. Within each municipality, the report compared the costs of living with the area’s median household incomes.

As the affordability gap grows, surges in demand are shrinking application windows for assistance, Long said.

Earlier this year, Operation Fuel paused applications for energy assistance due to extreme demand. The window for applications briefly opened again in April, but the group signaled another closure was looming.

In April, Operation Fuel eventually closed its winter/spring application period a month early after being inundated with requests for assistance.

Statewide, Hartford and Bridgeport have the highest energy burdens, while New Haven and Hartford have the highest water bill burdens.

And while the affordability gap grows across the state, the burden isn’t shared equally among all Connecticut residents, Connecticut Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman said.

“Many Connecticut residents, particularly those living in our cities and people of color, have a higher energy burden than other residents,” Coleman said.

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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