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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 1, 2005

Gov. Blagojevich urges Illinois Congressional Delegation to protect energy assistance funding; announces winter heating grants available today
Home heating bills expected to be higher, vulnerable households advised to take steps before winter season starts

CHICAGO – With home heating bills expected to rise this winter, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich sent a letter today to the Illinois Congressional Delegation urging them to protect critical Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding during upcoming budget negotiations. He also announced that starting today vulnerable households and those currently without home heating due to service disconnections are able to apply for one-time grants through the LIHEAP winter program.
 
“The State of Illinois provided more energy assistance to its low-income residents last winter than ever before in response to rising energy prices and severe weather conditions, and still there remained unmet need for assistance.  Now, we face the prospect of even higher heating bills in the winter ahead,” the Governor wrote.  “Without emergency assistance, low-income seniors and families will again be faced with difficult choices – paying for prescription drugs or paying their electricity bills, buying food or heating their homes.  Please consider the needs of the 300,000 households that will utilize the winter heating program and protect both the regular program funding and the emergency contingency fund for LIHEAP.  With your help, the State of Illinois will be better prepared to respond to the needs of its citizens this winter.”
 
Governor Blagojevich is concerned that the House Appropriations Committee has only approved $2.006 billion in regular funds and no emergency contingency funding for the fiscal year 2006 LIHEAP program.  The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Committee has proposed program funding at $1.883 billion for the regular program and $300 million for the emergency contingency fund.  This is less than the $2.18 billion in funding approved for last year’s program, which also included an additional $297 million in emergency funds. This budget shortfall, if approved by Congress, could have a disastrous impact on vulnerable households including seniors, young families and those with health problems worsened by cold weather.
 
The Energy Information Administration, which releases official energy statistics from the U.S. Government, stated earlier this month that, “average heating oil prices will be about 16 percent higher this winter compared to the 2004-2005 winter.” 
 
Through the annual LIHEAP winter program, which is run by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS), heating bill payments will be made on behalf of seniors, the disabled, families with very young children, those currently without home heating due to service disconnections, and people with medical conditions that would be aggravated by cold.
 
“We are urging vulnerable households to apply for energy assistance as soon as they can so they can be as prepared as possible to handle increased heating costs when the winter season starts,” said Barry Maram, Director of HFS.  “The grants will provide assistance that will help a lot of families and vulnerable households in Illinois get through a tough time."
 
LIHEAP is a state- and federally-funded energy assistance program that assists households with incomes of up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level.  A single-person household can qualify with a monthly income of up to $1,196, a two-person household up to $1,604, and a family of four can earn up to $2,420.  Benefits will be paid directly to the household’s appropriate utility.
 
The energy grant applications will be processed through a network of 35 local administering agencies around the state.  These agencies will accept applications on a first-come, first-serve basis from eligible households beginning September 1 until funding for the winter heating program is exhausted.  The local administering agencies will start accepting applications from all income-eligible households on November 1, 2006.  The winter heating program is expected to reach 300,000 households this winter with an estimated $150 million in state and federal funding.
 
This summer approximately 55,648 households received assistance statewide from the Summer Cooling program though LIHEAP.  Under Governor Blagojevich’s direction, HFS provided a total of $8,503,187 in direct assistance to families. The total number served far exceeded the initial estimate of 40,000 applicants, which indicates that the LIHEAP Summer Cooling Program was a timely response to the needs of the most vulnerable segments of the population: the elderly, disabled, and households with children.  The coordinated outreach efforts by the Local Administering Agencies and LIHEAP staff combined to make the program a great success.
 
LIHEAP serves as many households as possible while giving priority to households with the greatest energy burden and households whose health and safety is threatened.  For a complete listing of LIHEAP’s local administrating agencies and additional information about the grant program, go to www.liheapillinois.com, or call the toll-free LIHEAP information line at 1-800-252-8643.
-30-
 
 
 
**The text of Governor Blagojevich’s letter to the Illinois Congressional Delegation follows**
 
Rod R. Blagojevich
GOVERNOR
 
 
September 1, 2005
 
Illinois Congressional Delegation
United States Congress
Washington, DC 
                                                                                                                                                               
Dear Member of Congress:
With home heating bills expected to rise this winter, I urge you to protect the much needed funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) during upcoming budget negotiations. 
The House Appropriations Committee has only approved $2.006 billion in regular funds and no emergency contingency funding for the FY 2006 LIHEAP program.  The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Committee has proposed program funding at $1.883 billion for the regular program and $300 million for the emergency contingency fund.  This is less than the $2.18 billion in funding approved for the program in FY 2005, which included $297 million in emergency funds.  These funding shortfalls are alarming considering the Energy Information Administration projects that heating prices will be about 16 percent higher this winter compared to the 2004-2005 winter.
The State of Illinois provided more energy assistance to its low-income residents last winter than ever before in response to rising energy prices and severe weather conditions, and still there remained unmet need for assistance.  Now, we face the prospect of even higher heating bills in the winter ahead. 
 
Without emergency assistance, low-income seniors and families will again be faced with difficult choices – paying for prescription drugs or paying their electricity bills, buying food or heating their homes.  Please consider the needs of the 300,000 households that will utilize the winter heating program and protect both the regular program funding and the emergency contingency fund for LIHEAP.  With your help, the State of Illinois will be better prepared to respond the needs of its citizens this winter.
 
Thank you for your attention to this request.
 
Sincerely,
 
Rod R. Blagojevich
Governor
 


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