HARTFORD -- Federal emergency winter heating assistance may be cut in half this year, and state officials on Tuesday vowed to mobilize to regain last year's funding level.

Under a recent federal budget agreement, the state would see a $57 million cut in funding from last year. The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program would be reduced from $98 million to $41 million this winter.

"This would be a very painful cut in a significant federal program that has extraordinary benefits for low- and moderate-income people throughout the country," said state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven.

A third of the households receiving assistance have elderly residents and about half have disabled residents or youngsters under 5, he said.

Last year, 113,000 low-income households participated in the program, with average awards of $863 per family. Income requirements were about $33,000 for a family of four, about 150 percent of poverty levels.

Looney said that the cuts in the heating program may become part of the overall picture on programming reductions that may affect the state.

"I think it's symptomatic of the kinds of concerns we're going to be experiencing on a variety of fronts," Looney said during a news conference Tuesday in the Capitol.

"For lower income families and senior citizens on a fixed income, these cuts to LIHEAP will be devastating," said Patricia Wrice, executive director of Operation Fuel, the nonprofit energy assistance program. "Energy costs are expected to rise for many households. Forecasts from the Energy Information Administration project home-heating oil prices to increase 7.2 percent to $4.04 a gallon this coming winter."

State Rep. Vickie O. Nardello, D-Prospect, co-chairwoman of the legislative Energy & Technology Committee, said that elderly residents already pay a disproportionate amount of their incomes on heating-fuel costs.

"I think that if you look at the overall amount this cut will save is a pittance in terms of the federal budget," Nardello said.

Jeff Butler, president and chief operating officer of Connecticut Light & Power Co., said people not only need assistance in the winter, but aid in paying for air conditioning in the summer.