It could to be a cold winter for many area homeowners.

The Connecticut Energy Assistance Program has been slashed by 40 percent.

That fact alone creates a serious challenge to Greater New Milford social services directors.

"We're about on par with previous years in the number of people who are seeking assistance," said Peg Molina, New Milford's social services director. "But the amount of help from the state has shrunk over the last two years, making it challenging to have enough money on hand to buy even a minimum order of heating oil."

Poverty guidelines for fiscal year 2014 for energy assistance from the state top out at $22,800 income for an individual to $47,000 for a family of four.

At that echelon of allowed income, assistance from the state is a one-time $350 allotment.

By Dec. 1, Molina had 250 households requesting heating assistance. She expected that number to double by season's end.

Operation Fuel, a privately funded, crisis intervention fuel bank which offers a one-time $500 allotment, is also available to draw on, Molina noted.

In Sherman, Social Services Director Beth Trott is buoyed in providing heating assistance by four local charitable groups, among them Matthew 25 and the Congregational Church.

From 2012 to 2013, she has had an increase of 10 households that qualify for assistance.

"They say the economy is getting better, but we have not seen it in Sherman," Trott said. "I have new people coming in to me who have never applied for help before."

"People think of Sherman as a wealthy town," she said, "and it is, but we also have people who have fallen on hard times."

First Selectman Clay Cope lauds the charitable groups in town.

"I think its wonderful that Matthew 25, the Congregational Church and others' efforts are available," Cope said. "We're blessed with the people we have in this community who care about their neighbors."

In Bridgewater, Agent for The Elderly Debi Kuchinski oversees the energy assistance program.

When state funding runs out, she has the town's annually budgeted welfare line to draw on and the group Community Caring in Bridgewater to turn to.

"We're a much smaller town than New Milford so our numbers aren't in the hundreds," Kuchinski said. "But we average from 12 to 35 households needing assistance."

"I have seen a slight increase," she said, "with five extra households requesting assistance this year."

Everyone hopes for a mild winter, but if that isn't the case, it's safe to say lots of folks in all seven towns in the Greater New Milford area will suffer a cold season.; 860-355-7322

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Area contacts
Bridgewater 860-355-3090, Debi Kuchinski
Kent 860-927-1586, Leah Pullaro
New Milford 860-355-6079, Peg Molina
Roxbury 860-210-0201, Jerrilyn Tiso
Sherman 860-354-2414, Beth Trott
Warren 860-868-7881 ext. 114, Leah Pullaro
Washington 860-868-0732 (for seniors, Pam Collins) and 860-868-7276 (all other households, Pat Welles)