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Operation Fuel offers heating help to those in need

December 24, 2018

GREENWICH — It could be a cold winter ahead for Greenwich residents who have difficulty paying the bills to heat their homes.

But help is available thanks to Operation Fuel. The statewide program, run by a private charity, offers cash assistance for heating bills for households with incomes that are at or below 75 percent of the state median income level.

The annual income for eligibility is below about $43,894 for a single person and $84,412 for a family of four. Operation Fuel uses local fuel banks to make payments directly to vendors to help cover costs for heat expenses for those who apply and are eligible for help. The fuel bank decides the amount of the payment.

The town’s Department of Human Services is spreading the word to low-income residents of Greenwich.

“People are just starting to see the higher energy bills for the winter, and there’s always a spike in January and February,” said Monica Bruning, director of human services programs for the town. “People start to reach out to us then.”

About 40 residents make use of the program, Bruning said, but some might not know they’re eligible for the help. To find out if you qualify, make an appointment with the town’s Department of Human Services for an evaluation.

The department also administers benefits from the state’s Energy Assistance Program from October though May, which the town can also help residents apply for, Bruning said.

Utility companies and fuel providers are also under a moratorium during the winter that prevents them from turning off service to people who are truly unable to pay their heating and electric bills due to economic hardship.

There are several requirements that must be met for Operation Fuel, and there is an application process. In addition to the income requirement, to get benefits from Operation Fuel, a resident must have exhausted or have been denied eligibility for state-run assistance benefits.

Residents can also apply for Operation Fuel if they have lost their job, are collecting unemployment benefits or have exhausted their unemployment. Those with “very limited incomes,” including those living off benefits from disability or Social Security, are also eligible.

The household must also show that they are in an emergency or financial crisis. For example, a family might be choosing between heat or food, medical bills or rent. This can be in cases of unemployment, a death, illness or other emergency.

If a resident who is seeking help is not eligible for Operation Fuel, then the town will look for other sources for help.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into it, but it’s not very confusing,” Bruning said of the application process for Operation Fuel. “When people come into the department, we work with them and we assess them for everything. There are things they may be eligible for that they don’t even need at the time so we work closely with them to make sure they are able to get what they need through our assessment. We find out what works best for them and what they need to do to get there.”

Anyone who is “struggling with their bills should definitely give us a call,” Bruning said. The evaluation process, which includes questions about income, family composition and assets, is confidential. There are Spanish-speaking personnel available to help, too.

Walk-ins are allowed, Bruning said, but it is better to make an appointment. Town officials can also inform residents of the documentation and information they need to bring. Appointments can be made by calling the town’s Department of Human Services at 203-622-3800.

The amount of money provided is decided by the fuel bank. The money is paid directly to the fuel or utility vendors.

The program will run through May 31, 2019, or whenever the funding runs out. It has been open for applications from Greenwich since early this money.

Help through Operation Fuel is also available for spring and summer to cover gas and electric bills.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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