CHICAGO – In preparation for skyrocketing energy prices in the upcoming winter months, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich and 27 other governors from across the country today sent a letter to U.S. Congressional Leadership and House Appropriations Leaders urging them to include $1.276 billion in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds in the next supplemental funding request as part of our nation’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
“We know this hurricane season will have a huge impact on already high energy prices,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “We should take action now to avoid another emergency situation that could hit thousands of senior citizens and families on fixed incomes when winter arrives and they can't afford record high heating costs. Congress should include at least $1 billion in LIHEAP funding in the next supplemental funding request as part of our nation’s response to this disaster.”
Through LIHEAP, a state- and federally-funded energy assistance program run by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS), heating bill payments are made available to households with incomes of up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Governor Blagojevich made LIHEAP funding available on September 1, 2005 to vulnerable households and those currently without home heating due to service disconnections to meet their winter heating needs.
“Even before Hurricane Katrina disrupted natural gas supplies, energy prices in Illinois and throughout the nation were on the rise. Early this month, Illinois saw the nation’s highest gasoline prices. And now we are also facing record home heating prices. The Energy Information Administration is now projecting that costs will be 77 percent higher than last winter,” said the governor. “Without additional LIHEAP funding, many more low-income families, seniors and hardworking Americans will be forced to choose between putting food on the table, buying the medicine they need or paying their heating bills to stay warm this winter.”
“Without the federal funding we need for LIHEAP, households across the state of Illinois are going to be left in the cold this winter and that is exactly what we want to avoid,” said Barry Maram, Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. “Projections have shown high energy costs ahead and we want to take the appropriate steps now to make sure we are prepared for the winter months. Last year we were able to provide more energy assistance than ever before but with higher prices this year we are really going to be squeezed.”
On September 1, 2005, the Governor sent a letter to the Illinois Congressional Delegation urging them to protect critical LIHEAP funding during upcoming budget negotiations. The U.S. 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.
Through LIHEAP, 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 are paid directly to the household’s appropriate utility. The energy grant applications are processed through a network of 35 Local Administering Agencies around the state. These agencies accept applications on a first-come, first-serve basis from vulnerable households beginning September 1 and 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.
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.
Last week the Governor appointed a Special Director of Emergency Energy Assistance to marshal resources from the public and private sectors and to coordinate assistance to vulnerable populations impacted by record-high heating costs. In addition to meeting the needs of vulnerable populations, the Special Director will set up a complaint system that will assist the state in monitoring utility prices and shut-offs. The Special Director will work with utilities, the ICC and other state agencies to ensure the public’s best interest is protected.
The Governor also called on the Illinois utility companies to help maximize the effectiveness of LIHEAP by waiving administrative re-connection fees and security deposits for LIHEAP customers. In the past, LIHEAP funds have been used first to cover utilities’ administrative re-connection fees and security deposits, which can cost more than $400. The Governor asked utilities to waive such fees so that grant funds go directly to cover actual usage charges, allowing the state to help more households cover heating costs.