Middlesex United Way: Operation Fuel can help families with energy bills

This past month was one of the hottest in recent memory, and we are bound to have at least one more heat wave before the end of the season. Whether it was heading to the pool, a beach, or even a shopping mall, many of us sought out a way to cool down. The challenge, however, is when we have to return home — many of us may not be able to afford the increased energy usage required in cooling a home.

Without access to air conditioning in these heat waves, both mental and physical health are proven to be impacted. Fortunately, there is a program locally that helps families or individuals who otherwise would have no other way to beat the heat.

Operation Fuel works with local government and community-based organizations to ensure families in Connecticut have access to year-round energy assistance. Not only do they help with the increased bills associated with cooling a home, they are there to help year-round with heating cost as well. They call themselves “Energy Blind”, meaning whatever the energy type - oil, electric, natural gas, kerosene, wood, propane, pellets, or other sources, they will be there to provide assistance to eligible families.

Operation Fuel works to help households whose income does not exceed 75 percent of the state median income guidelines. For example, a household of four which earns below $82,611 would be eligible for the program. The recipients are comprised of all types of residents, from elderly or disabled, to working families who simply need a little more help getting by. Connecticut energy costs are the highest in the nation, meaning even if all adults in the home are working, it still may not be enough to cover energy costs.

Operation Fuel is a privately funded charitable program that may be able to provide cash assistance of up to $500 for utility expenses for eligible Connecticut households in need. In Middletown, the intake site is at St. Vincent DePaul on Main Street, which is also a Middlesex United Way partner. Intake sites are currently accepting applications for utility assistance (both heat and non-heat), and, to apply, you must submit an application to your local fuel bank.

To find the fuel bank that serves your town, please visit OperationFuel.org, or call 211 to speak with a contact specialist. Even if you do not qualify for Operation Fuel assistance, you may find you qualify for other programs when speaking with the 211 specialists.

It is also important to note that when the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program is accepting applications, Operation Fuel requires that all individuals apply for CEAP prior to applying for an Operation Fuel grant, for primary heat sources. If you are denied a grant from CEAP or have exhausted your CEAP benefit, please call 2-1-1 to determine your eligibility for an additional grant.

Whether it is trying to stay cool in the summer, or warm in the winter, costs are rising and becoming increasingly difficult to afford. If you or someone you may know are looking for a little extra help getting by, please contact 211 either by phone or online at www.211ct.org.

Kevin Wilhelm is executive director and CEO of the Middlesex United Way in Middletown.