May 15, 2008
ENERGY ASSISTANCE GRANTS
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked how benefits under the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program (CEAP), which helps low income residents of the state pay their heating bills, have changed in recent years. CEAP is almost entirely funded by the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The benefits under CEAP have been constant over the past three years, after having been increased for the 2005-2006 heating season. The program provides a basic benefit for households who heat with natural gas, electricity, and deliverable fuels (notably heating oil) who meet the program's income and asset limits. The benefit is higher for “vulnerable” households, i.e., those that include one or more members who are 60 or older, under six years old, or disabled. The basic benefit decreases with household income.
The program also provides (1) a one-time crisis assistance benefit for households who use deliverable fuels who have exhausted their basic benefits and (2) a safety net assistance benefit for households who use deliverable fuels and who have exhausted their basic and crisis assistance benefits. Crisis assistance benefits are only provided if the household's inability to obtain fuel creates a life threatening situation. The emergency assistance benefit is only provided as a last resort, if the household has exhausted its basic and crisis assistance benefit and can not otherwise find shelter with adequate heat. These benefits are available to homeowners and to renters who pay directly for their heat. There is also a benefit for income-eligible renters whose heat is included in their rent and who pay more than 30% of their gross income on rent.
These benefits and eligibility standards have been the same for the past three heating seasons. The basic benefit for vulnerable households has been $400 to $675, depending on the household's income. Households with incomes of up to 150% of the federal poverty level are eligible (200% of the poverty level for households with a member who is at least 60 years old or disabled). For the 2007-2008 heating season, the maximum income was $25,755 for a three-person household ($34,340 for a three-person household with senior or disabled members). The benefit range for non-vulnerable households has been $435 to $635, depending on income. (The lower minimum for the vulnerable households reflects the fact that households with a member who is 60 or older or disabled are eligible for the basic benefit if their income is up to 200% of the federal poverty level, while the maximum income for other households is 150% of the federal poverty level.) The crisis assistance benefit has been up to $400. The safety net benefit has also been up to $400, with vulnerable households eligible for an additional payment of up to $400. The renters benefit has been $240 to $270, depending on the household's income.
The benefits in 2005-2006 and subsequent heating seasons reflect PA 05-2, October 25, 2005 Special Session. This act increased the basic benefit for the 2005-2006 heating season by $200 over the previous heating season. The act also required the Department of Social Services to provide benefits to moderate income residents under the Contingency Heating Assistance Program. This program is open to households whose income is up to 60% of the state's median income. (For the 2007-2008 heating season, the maximum income was $46,471 for a three-person household.) The program provides a basic benefit of $300 for vulnerable and non-vulnerable households. It provides a one-time crisis assistance benefit to eligible households who use deliverable fuels.
While energy assistance benefits have increased in recent years, the cost of heating fuels has increased more rapidly. For example, the statewide average cost of a gallon of heating oil increased from $2.17 in March 2005 to $3.96 in March 2008.