By Norm Needleman, State Senator.
(Dec. 7, 2021) — The holiday season is certainly bustling across our region. This past weekend, several towns helped people celebrate the holidays with tree lightings, parades, and breakfasts with Santa. I got the chance to take part myself in some of the festivities. It was wonderful to stop by the Higganum Center Tree Lighting and annual holiday pop up market, and to be part of the Westbrook Tree Lighting and Parade. Thank you to everyone involved in organizing these events that are fun for the whole community.
Paid Family Leave Benefits to Begin January 1
In just weeks, Connecticut’s landmark Paid Family and Medical Leave Program will begin paying out claims. I’m proud to have joined in voting to approve the program back in 2019 because it is important that people are not forced to choose between caring for their families and keeping their jobs. Also, as a business owner, I think this program is a necessary tool for businesses to recruit new employees, especially those who are caregivers or are younger individuals looking to start a family down the line.
Expectant parents and caregivers of family members, among others, will be able to access earned benefits, allowing them to focus on what’s most important during times of joy or difficulty. All workers who are enrolled in the program, including full-time and part-time workers, can receive benefits aligning with their take-home pay, eligible to receive up to $780 per week in benefits. By June 2023, the maximum weekly benefit will rise to $900.
Who is eligible for paid Family and Medical Leave?
The following individuals will be eligible to receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave for events occurring beginning on or after January 1:
- Parents welcoming a new child into their families by birth, adoption or foster care
- Workers who develop serious health conditions or whose loved ones are dealing with serious health conditions
- Organ or bone marrow donors post-donation
- Workers caring for family members injured during active duty military service or facing urgent needs due to a family member’s overseas deployment
- Individuals impacted by family violence will be eligible to receive up to 12 days of paid leave benefits for medical or psychological care
How to file a claim
To file a claim, program officials recommend visiting www.ctpaidleave.org, though applications can also be sent via email, fax, mail or phone. Those seeking to file claims should ensure they fill out a Paid Leave Employment Verification Form, which will require approval from their employer, as well as required identity documents.
New parents need to supply a bonding statement or document; caregivers or ill individuals need to supply forms completed by a health care provider; and those seeking aid for family violence or military-related coverage will need to provide forms regarding legal proceedings or military leave, respectively. Approved claims will see their benefits begin payment two weeks after the start of the claimed period, with payments made by electronic transfer or to a debit card. For more information, I encourage you to check out the frequently asked questions section on the Connecticut Paid Family and Medical Leave Program website.
With this program in place, new parents will be able to bond with their children without having to worry about their finances, while those caring for a loved one, or themselves, who have fallen ill will be able to focus on their health first and their bills second.
Assistance Available with Heating Costs
As the winter quickly approaches, I’ve heard from people expressing concerns with heating costs. Please know that help is available from the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program to Operation Fuel. Connecticut has a number of support options available to ensure no one goes without heat this winter.
Further, fighting for the needs of utility customers remains one of my top priorities as Senate Chair of the Energy & Technology Committee and as your state senator. Earlier this year, I led unanimous approval of a new law to give households greater protections when it comes to third-party electricity suppliers. It prohibits cancellation fees for residential customers who are under contract with an electric supplier and strengthens oversight of these suppliers.
Available assistance programs:
- Connecticut Energy Assistance Program: Administered by the Connecticut Department of Social Services, the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program (CEAP), provides winter heating cost assistance to more than 75,000 income-eligible households every year, regardless of their heat source. Both homeowners and renters can be eligible. People should contact their local Community Action Agency to apply. Statewide consumer and application information is available on the web at www.ct.gov/staywarm or by calling 2-1-1
- Nonprofit heating assistance services: Operation Fuel and other nonprofits provide year-round emergency energy assistance to low-to-moderate-income households that don’t qualify for CEAP or who run out of CEAP benefits. Information is available at operationfuel.org
- COVID-19 Payment Plans for Utility-Heated Customers: The Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) has directed all regulated electric, gas, and water utilities in the state to offer COVID-19 payment plans, which both residential and non-residential customers are eligible to enroll in through the end of the public health emergency declaration. COVID-19 payment plans are available to any customer requesting financial assistance to facilitate the repayment of past due balances in addition to the customer’s current monthly bill. These plans require no initial or down payment or demonstration of financial need; can be up to 24 months in length; and waive any fees or interest in the calculation of the monthly payment amount. Customers can receive information on these payment plans by contacting their utility companies
- Electric Utility Bill Assistance from UniteCT: Established by Governor Lamont and administered by the Connecticut Department of Housing, UniteCT provides rental and utility assistance funding for those financially impacted by COVID-19. UniteCT has become a model for other states by successfully delivering more than $18 million to electric customers to date to help pay down their arrearages (back bills). Connecticut residents who rent their homes can apply through their electric utility company or municipal electric company. For more information, visit portal.ct.gov/DOH/DOH/Programs/UniteCT
- Winter Protection Program – Moratorium on Heating Source Shut-Offs: From November 1 through May 1, there is a moratorium in Connecticut on heating source shut-offs for eligible households. Customers should contact their utility and inquire about the Winter Protection Program, as well as other programs for which they may be eligible. More information is available from 2-1-1 by visiting uwc.211ct.org/winter-protection-winter-moratorium/
- Energy-Saving Solutions – Energize CT: Energize CT can help customers save money on energy bills by providing advice, information, and financial incentives to make homes more energy efficient. For more information, visit energizect.com