Facing the facts: Funding the Energy Assistance Program this winter

Facing the facts: Funding the Energy Assistance Program this winter

Republican leader Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford) is again calling on the governor to use some of the surplus to fund the energy assistance program this winter. He joins NBC Connecticut’s Mike Hydeck to discuss the need for the program.

mike hydeck: So how should lawmakers handle the skyrocketing surplus in Connecticut’s coffers? State Republicans have called for greater tax relief. And now that the colder months have arrived, there is another concern that is front and center: home heating. With me now is Senate Republican Minority Leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford. Senator Kelly, welcome to Face the Facts.

Kevin Kelly: Hello.

Mike Hydeck: For example, you have spoken recently over the past few months about the need to increase funding for the state energy assistance program. Is there more need this year than in past years? That is why?

Kevin Kelly: Yes. And what I heard in my district, I was at TEAM in Derby. They have seen an increase of around 12% in requests this year compared to last year, coupled with an increase in heating oil of around 15-20%. So even if people got what they got last year, they wouldn’t buy as much oil.

Mike Hydeck: So the governor wants to wait until January, I guess, to dip into federal funds. You think it’s too late. Why?

Kevin Kelly: Well, first, I mean, the feds cut that program by 40% in July, and then they added more funds to reduce that cut to 26%. You know, and how many times do we have to keep waiting for Washington, a dysfunctional Washington for that matter, to do something before we realize, you know, it’s starting to get cold in New England. And it won’t be any hotter in January or February. And so we have to, if we’re sitting on a surplus, put some money in, and actually not just funded at where it was last year, but I think we have to go to about 120% to 130% of that amount just treading water. And when you administer these programs, there is a lump sum. And it started in September. And what happens when you hear these families, I heard one in Derby the other day, and what they were saying was they had $3,000 worth of oil last year . This year, they only received $700. And that didn’t even fill a tank and they’re already nearly exhausted. Well, they’re going to run out of oil in November, December. They can’t wait until January. And because of that, I think we need to answer the call as soon as possible.

Mike Hydeck: So the need is there, we have established it. One of the other pretty interesting things when you look at the June numbers is that crude oil was at $123 a barrel. Now it’s around $80. And it’s been very volatile over the last month given world events and events here in the United States with all that we’re pumping and refining. Is he almost trying to predict where the market will go, how bad it will get? I mean, isn’t that easy to do these days?

Kevin Kelly: Well, I don’t think we need to look at the market. I think what we have to do is watch, we know what the weather and what winter it is like in New England, and it’s cold. And if we don’t meet that need, it’s one of the most important human services because if people are cold, that’s the first thing they’re going to do is they’re going to get hot their shelter. And so if they don’t have the funds, then they’re going to cut other things. They’ll cut their rent payment, they’ll cut their prescriptions, they’ll cut their food, or worse, they’ll go to some other source, like let’s just heat their house with an oven. And that could put families at risk because they’re going to have to stay warm. And so Mike, we have to focus on what the families who are in this situation are going to do. Many of them are employees, many of them are our neighbors. And so with that in mind, I think it’s only appropriate. What do we have in front of us? We know we have a surplus, okay, we have a historic rainy day fund. But in the current operating budget, there is a surplus, we could fund it. And I don’t understand why we’re not because we’re going to leave people with very, very poor choices. If you fall behind on your rent, you are evicted. Getting a new place, if you couldn’t afford a month’s rent, you won’t get first, last, and a good credit score. This is the reality for families in this situation and we will continue to be their voice on Capitol Hill to ensure that voice is heard.

mike hydeck: So more and more people on both sides of the aisle are calling for a special session. It seems more likely, even the Governor is talking about it now. One last question before we let you go, 2017, that bipartisan budget was a feather in the cap of your predecessor, then Senate leader Len Fasano. This paved the way for this huge surplus. But are we in a situation where the Rainy Day Fund guidelines need to be changed, in your opinion?

Kevin Kelly: I’m not sure they need to be changed. First, we need to expand them. They need to be reauthorized, and I think the first step is to reauthorize them for another five years. Obviously they worked. They worked very well. We have started to reduce our debt. We have a Rainy Day Fund at its peak and a lot of that is due to this spending and obligation cap as well as the volatility cap that we all have in place. So they have demonstrated their worth. And I think we need to continue and expand them further.

Mike Hydeck: And it seems the governor agrees on that. Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, we have to leave it at that. Thank you so much for joining us on Face the Facts this morning.

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