Operation Fuel Opposes Section 4 of H.B. 5426 An Act Concerning Fuel Vendor Reimbursement Under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program


Testimony from Operation Fuel Policy & Public Affairs Associate, Mike Turaj – March 14, 2024

Dear Co-Chairs Rep. Gilchrest, Sen. Lesser, Ranking Members Rep. Case, Sen. Seminara, Vice-Chairs Rep. Dathan, Sen. Gaston and Honorable Members of the Human Services Committee:

Operation Fuel appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony in opposition to Section 4 of H.B. 5426, An Act Concerning Fuel Vendor Reimbursement Under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Section 4 would require “the Commissioner of Department of Social Services (DSS), in consultation with the Low-Income Energy Advisory Board (LIEAB), to develop a common application and benefits portal for low-income home energy assistance benefits and Operation Fuel…The portal shall be designed for ease of use and shall be implemented not later than October 1, 2024.” While Operation Fuel supports reducing residents’ barriers to accessing energy assistance, we do not support a mandate from the state that we migrate our customers to a new database. We also believe this deadline is unrealistic. We appreciate the committee raising these issues through HB 5426 and look forward to continuing to collaborate with Department of Social Services, the Low-Income Energy Advisory Board, the CT Association for Community Action, policymakers, and other stakeholders to improve our state’s emergency energy assistance systems.

Section 4 would impose unnecessary mandates on Operation Fuel, on an unrealistic deadline.

We do not support the state mandating that any nonprofit to use a specific database, especially one that is owned by the state. Operation Fuel uses an online platform to accept and
review customer applications for assistance. We may also use our database to administer other programs, and/or manage donor information. Combining our client data with the state’s systems poses risks to data security, privacy, and management. Transitioning to a new database requires migrating data, training staff, and other changes that require months of time and tens of thousands of dollars to achieve. It is not realistic that Operation Fuel or the state could meet the October 2024 deadline articulated in the bill. We support the broad goals we believe this bill represents, which are to improve service delivery and reduce barriers for residents of our state seeking energy assistance. Both Operation Fuel and CEAP have different application processes, including different eligible populations, income and program requirements. We also recognize that clients, the media, the general public, and even sometimes policymakers confuse our programs with the CT Energy Assistance Program. We believe that maintaining clear boundaries between the programs helps to reduce this. Historically, clients who exhaust their CEAP benefits or who don’t qualify, turn to Operation Fuel to fill the gaps.

Operation Fuel is committed to building our partnerships and collaborating with state agencies, CAAs, fuel vendors, and other stakeholders to achieve these goals. While we oppose Section 4 of this bill, we welcome those ongoing discussions and thank the committee for the opportunity to advance the conversation.

Operation Fuel has concerns over the aggressive timetable and amount of administrative costs this would put on both Operation Fuel and DSS. There would need to be established parameters around data and sensitive information. Also, migrating data over to a new system takes enormous administrative costs and time. Historically, Operation Fuel usually opens our summer/fall program season in August. Transferring data over during program season is impossible, as our primary focus is on the clients we serve.

There would also be costs associated with training and communicating with over 45 of our fuel bank partners to prepare them for changes associated with Operation Fuel. We rely on our partners across the state to help process applications for those seeking energy assistance. Along with that, there would need to be a communications plan and outreach campaign to all of our clients on the updated changes. This all takes meticulous planning and administrative costs associated that are not mentioned in the legislation as written.

Operation Fuel continues to experience growing demand for assistance, and actively works to reduce barriers for qualified residents to access aid.

Operation Fuel’s 2024 Winter Program Season opened on January 8th, 2024-and experienced another season of high demand. When opening, Operation Fuel’s funding levels
were set to support roughly 3,000 applications for the 3-month season. In just under two weeks, Operation Fuel received over 2,000 applications from residents. Almost all applications were residents in crisis. Luckily, with emergency funding from Connecticut through federal ARPA funds- we were able to extend our program season and accept more applications. After receiving the funding, Operation Fuel reviewed our guidelines to make emergency assistance more accessible. One change included clients with a current CEAP award letter may submit this as proof of income for their household. We also removed our 12-month application restriction, and no longer require utility customers to submit payment history when they apply. We regularly refer clients to www.ct.gov/heatinghelp and to their CAA to access additional aid. Operation Fuel is committed to making energy assistance more accessible.

Operation Fuel is committed to improving collaboration with other stakeholders to improve the client experience for CT residents who face energy insecurity.

Operation Fuel is engaged in collaborative discussions with state officials and agencies on how best to make the process easier for residents to apply. We are active members of the
Low-Income Energy Advisory Board, and of the National Energy & Utility Assistance Coalition (NEUAC). Earlier this session, we worked closely with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), CT Energy Marketers Association (CEMA), CAFCA, and other advocates to secure an additional $17 million in energy assistance for the CAAs and Operation Fuel. We are working closely with the Department of Social Services to distribute these funds quickly and efficiently to as many eligible residents as possible. Operation Fuel wants to express our appreciation to the staff and leadership of DSS, who have been great partners for us on this important work. We are likewise grateful to the legislature, Governor, Office of Consumer Counsel, and so many stakeholders for securing these funds for our neighbors in need. We will continue to look for opportunities to share information and collaborate in the best interest of CT residents.

Operation Fuel is opposed to Section 4 of H.B. 5426 and would recommend the committee amend the bill by removing Section 4. However, Operation Fuel is willing and able to collaborate with state legislators and state agencies on best practices to make energy assistance, and affordability in general, more accessible for residents.


Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony, for your leadership and your collaboration.