Operation Fuel Testimony Supporting HB 5342, AAC Membership of Low-Income Energy Advisory Board

Testimony from Operation Fuel Executive Director Brenda Watson, March 2022.

Chairs Rep. Abercrombie and Sen. Moore, Ranking Members Rep. Case and Sen. Berthel,

Thank you for considering Operation Fuel’s testimony in support of HB 5342, AN ACT

Operation Fuel ensures equitable access to energy for all by providing year-round energy and utility assistance, promoting energy independence, and advocating for affordable energy. We partner with local government and community-based organizations throughout Connecticut to ensure that families and individuals in need have access to year-round utility and water assistance. We were founded in the late 1970s as the nation’s first fuel bank, helping struggling families pay for heat. Today our programs have grown to include electricity and water bill assistance, as well as homelessness intervention. We encourage CT residents struggling to pay utility bills to visit our online portal at www.operationfuel.org/gethelp, where you can apply for assistance 24/7.

Operation Fuel’s Executive Director is a voting member of the LIEAB, who recently served as co-chair. H.B. 5342 will expand the voting membership of the Low-Income Energy Advisory Board (LIEAB), adding another Community Action Agency representative; housing, health, and water advocates; and building experts. Each of these new members will enhance the committee’s ability to represent diverse voices across our state, lending their specific expertise to the LIHEAP plan. Currently, the investor owned utility companies are very well represented on this board. For example, Avangrid, with subsidiaries CNG, SCG, and UI, gets 3 votes – one for each company – while CAAs currently only get 1.

There are 9 Community Action agencies in CT, and their staff processes applications for state energy assistance. RB 5342 would add another representative from this essential group. We believe the CAA perspective is important and would like to hear more from the people who manage the funds, in the planning process. The CT Fair Housing Center advocates for tenants and low-income clients who are at risk of losing their homes. Energy insecurity is one of the leading causes of homelessness; housing advocates’ insights into client needs will be invaluable. The Center for Children’s Advocacy also works with low-income clients, specifically around medical and utility protections. Attorneys from this agency have been at the forefront of shutoff protection dockets at PURA, as well as arguing for more customer focused bill paying programs to maximize the value of CEAP payments.

As the committee knows, the LIEAB oversees federal dollars that come into the state for water assistance. Federal COVID relief includes water assistance for low-income CT residents as well, which will be distributed through the Department of Social Services and Community Action Agencies in a similar process. The CT Water Works Association appointees will inform the board on these matters. As LIHEAP dollars are a significant investment in the well-being of our state, it is essential that we consider energy efficiency best practices to stretch the funds, reduce emissions in line with CT’s long-term goals, and improve health and safety of CT residents. We work closely with the CT Green Building Council and believe their appointee will provide insights for the board on how to invest in cost effective, clean technologies that can make homes more efficient healthier in CT.

We support Raised Bill 5342 because we need broader perspectives on the LIEAB to determine how best to meet the needs of those seeking assistance. Issues related to PURA, housing, weatherization, water, and renters’ rights are increasingly significant aspects of our agenda and work as a board. During the pandemic, and now with our state and nation facing significant inflation and uncertainty in the energy markets, having this additional expertise at the table will make us more responsive and representative.

Thank you for considering Operation Fuel’s testimony on this matter. We urge the committee to support HB 5342.