A cold front was moving through the area today, meaning the temperatures will be down a few degrees by the weekend so we can enjoy some nice early fall weather, sleep easier at night with the windows open, and no need for air conditioning.
If the weather follows its usual patterns we’ll have some nice days going into mid-October, and even some that are more reminiscent of summer than fall. In fact, it was a running joke between my mother and I that I would call her on my birthday, October 10, and remind her that on that date in upstate New York in the year I was born it was clear and warm – a very pleasant day overall.
I know this because she always made that point whenever she told the story of my birth – that it was uncommonly warm with the temp in the 80s, and how everything was so easy, including her labor and my birth. Then I’d tell her that was the last easy moment she had with me which always elicited a laugh.
But like all memories of the past, it’s easy to remember the good times and gloss over the hard times.
We rarely talk about the cold that comes soon after October’s beauty; how winters in upstate New York often were brutally cold with temps that dropped into the twenty and thirty below zero range. We tend to forget how often we would have to fill the coal stoves in the old two-family farmhouse we occupied on my grandfather’s farm, and that there were years when we worried if there would be enough coal.
Little has changed since then, and even as we enjoy the remnants of summer we have to prepare for the winter ahead. But this year that may not be easy for some of our citizens, especially the elderly.
Connecticut’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Plan which last year assisted an estimated 117,000 households across the state, including some 33,400 households with at least one member over the age of 60, is facing a drastic funding reduction of 50 percent, some $70 million. The dismal state of the economy, both on the state and federal levels, could mean disaster for many elderly.
Connecticut is working on many fronts to reduce the cost of aging in our state. For instance, social service agencies have a target of moving 5,000 residents of long-term nursing homes back into the community, which would mean savings of millions of dollars in Medicaid expenditures.
But if people living in their or a relative’s home aren’t able to heat that home, it not only represents a major threat to their health and safety, it also poses potential hazards such as burst pipes and other maintenance nightmares. Losing assistance for necessities such as heat could end up costing the elderly more in medical bills and home repairs than the savings realized from moving them out of nursing homes – with an average monthly cost of $12,000.
A hearing was held on this issue at the Capitol Monday by the Appropriations, Human Services and Energy and Technology Committees. Deb Polun, Legislative Director for the Connecticut Commission on Aging presented background information in support of an alternative plan that would restore some of the funding, and also made suggestions to help state residents who depend on LIHEAP.
While Governor Dannel Malloy is not considering restoring full funding for LIHEAP, and there are efforts underway to convince the federal government to increase its funding for the program, he has proposed restoration of a portion of the funding.
To that end Polun recommended:
1.) That the General Assembly reduce the minimum number of gallons of heating oil required for delivery from the legislatively mandated 100 gallons to 50 gallons, meaning homeowners would not have to pay as much up front for each delivery;
2.) Authorizing additional funds to assist with LIHEAP intake and eligibility administration. Currently federal law restricts the amount of LIHEAP funding to 10 percent of the total grant, most of which is passed on to community agencies. Reduction in this funding means that community organizations will see a reduction in their funding without a corresponding reduction in need;
3.) The Commission on Aging also recommends starting the program on November 1, instead of November 15;
4.) Finally, the CoA recommends the establishment of a Rapid Response Team composed of law enforcement, social services personnel, elected representatives and others. Polun noted that Hurricane (or Tropical Storm) Irene demonstrated that elderly people who went without power for several days to a week or more encountered significant difficulties when the weather and temperatures were not an issue.
If their oil tanks go dry in the winter, Polun noted, the outcome could be disastrous, and lead to an influx of people at hospital emergency rooms and a return to nursing homes.
The maximum assistance offered under this program is $1,280 per household, which certainly helps, but let’s face it, doesn’t heat a house for the entire heating season. There are many ways to reduce the state budget and I’m certain we all can find some on our own.
But putting our most vulnerable citizens in jeopardy during the harshest season is not the kind of program that makes for a well run state. I think we can do a lot better.
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