HARTFORD — With winter on the way a few months away and Election Day seven weeks away, Republicans and Democrats sparred again on Monday over how to provide financial assistance to low-income Connecticut residents facing soaring oil prices.
For the second time in less than three weeks, Republicans have tried to persuade majority Democrats in the General Assembly to agree to a special session to spend more on heating assistance for low-income people cut by federal officials. A spokesman for Governor Ned Lamont said it was premature.
Senate Leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford and House Leader Vincent Candelora of North Haven delivered petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office signed by legislative colleagues requesting a special session.
Special legislative sessions have often been called by legislators and the governor, but one called by petition is rare. Candelora, who was elected in 2006, and Kelly, who followed in 2010, said that had never happened in their legislative careers.
Unless enough Democrats sign on — unlikely because leadership has rejected Republican efforts — the latest call for a special session will go nowhere.
“We can’t do it alone,” Kelly said. “We’re asking Democrats to find it in their hearts and sign the petitions.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday calls for a special session were premature and urged state Republicans to urge congressional Republicans to support President Joe Biden’s demand for increased home heating assistance. .
Lamont said on Sept. 1, when Republicans last called for a special session that if winter temperatures were low “and we have a real need,” he and the legislature could add money to the session. legislative of 2023 which should begin in January.
Candelora said some of the funding could run out by December.
“This program has been scaled back from last year and we are going to see an expected 5% increase in attendance plus fuel costs have increased,” he said. “So to say that this program is OK as it is is complete nonsense.”
State lawmakers in August approved a home heating assistance package with less federal money than last year for nearly 97,000 low-income residents. Financial assistance for home heating assistance increased last year and in 2020 with federal pandemic money not available this year. As energy prices rise, more and more residents are looking for financial assistance.
With low-income residents facing the prospect of losing thousands of dollars in heating assistance, Republicans are proposing to increase the current $79.2 million expected from the federal government to $191.5 million. The GOP plan would use $112.3 million in federal pandemic aid.
Senator Norm Needleman, Democrat of Essex and co-chairman of the Legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, said home heating oil prices were falling, urging officials to watch prices before agreeing to a session of the legislature.
“If home heating prices drop by a dollar, that changes the dynamic significantly,” he said.
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Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, which represents home heating oil companies, said oil prices have fallen. But prices are fragile, he said. Consumer costs could jump if a hurricane interrupts production or if Russia’s war on Ukraine worsens already severe market disruptions.
Home heating oil is selling at $4.82 a gallon, down $1.55 from spring at the end of the season, he said. In the spring of 2021, it was selling for $2.26 per gallon, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Futures prices that indicate what oil will cost in the coming months are down, but supplies in New England are tight as suppliers wait to buy oil when prices drop, Herb said.
Needleman dismissed Republican calls for a special session as “100% political” because polls show GOP gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski trailing Lamont.
Candelora agreed that politics is a factor so close to Election Day on Nov. 8. He accused Democrats of playing politics.
“They might try to discredit us by claiming it’s political, but the reality is there’s a real need out there and people are hurting,” he said. “I would say they are playing politics by not addressing it.”
Stephen Singer can be reached at [email protected]