CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich last night signed Senate Bill 2030, which amends the Illinois Energy Assistance Act to allow the Supplemental Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund to receive an additional $5.2 million immediately. The new funding will contribute to the state’s ongoing efforts to prevent low-income families from having their utilities shut off and will enable the state to provide supplemental benefits up to $100 to hundreds of thousands of households that received benefits through LIHEAP this past year.
“This additional funding will go a long way in helping thousands of families who otherwise couldn’t pay their utility bills,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “This extra funding means that families, especially those facing disconnection, won’t have to choose between putting food on their tables or paying their utility bills.”
The law will transfer $5.2 million from the General Revenue Fund to the Supplemental Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund. The revenue is from taxes paid by low-income households that received energy assistance benefits during the 2005 winter heating season. The legislative effort was led by State Representative Marlow Colvin (D-33) and sponsored in the State Senate by Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13). The law amends the Illinois Energy Assistance Act to allow the Supplemental Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund to receive an additional $5.2 million immediately.
“Households across Illinois are facing the added additional burden of utility bills that have increased by more than 30 percent this winter. These additional funds will be critical to helping families keep their heat on and their loved ones safe,” said Representative Colvin. “I am proud to have introduced this important legislation and I commend Governor Blagojevich for signing it quickly, so the funds can get to the families as soon as possible.”
“With energy costs continuing to climb, this additional funding is of even greater importance,” said Senator Raoul. “This increased assistance has been a long time coming, and I appreciate the Governor's quick approval.”
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 are paid directly to the household’s appropriate utility.
The LIHEAP program makes utility bill payments on behalf of low-income households, including 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 severe temperatures. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services continues to accept new LIHEAP applications, and it has distributed over $182 million to 350,000 households this past year.
Energy grant applications are processed through a network of 35 community action agencies around the state. These agencies accept applications on a first-come, first-serve basis from eligible households funding for the winter heating program is exhausted. Community action agencies start accepting applications from all income-eligible households every year on November 1, 2005.
The LIHEAP beneficiaries receiving a supplemental benefit have already applied and received a LIHEAP benefit this past year and will not need to visit a LIHEAP office to receive the additional credit. The supplemental payments will be applied automatically to primary utility accounts that have remained active since LIHEAP payments were applied earlier in the winter. The supplemental payments will be made in the amount of $50, $75 or $100, depending on the households’ income and size.
At the Governor’s request, Illinois utility companies agreed to suspend disconnections between November 1 and March 31. In April, the utility companies began disconnecting households that are seriously delinquent in paying their utility bills. Low-income households facing imminent disconnection that have not already received a benefit to have their service restored can apply for extra help at LIHEAP offices throughout the state.
Earlier this year, the Governor sent a letter to the Illinois members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging them to vote for the Low Income Energy Assistance Funding bill and send it to the President’s desk. The bill shifted $1 billion in energy assistance funding from fiscal year 2007 to fiscal year 2006, increasing the amount of federal funding available to $3.1 billion total, including an additional $74 million in funding for Illinois.
Gov. Blagojevich launched the comprehensive Keep Warm Illinois campaign in response to the spike in energy prices that affected consumers statewide. Agencies across Illinois government have teamed to coordinate resources to ensure state residents have the information and resources necessary to better manage their home energy costs. Efforts include the Keep Warm Illinois website, www.KeepWarm.Illinois.gov, that offers energy saving tips, a web-based tool to conduct home energy audits, important information on energy assistance programs, and additional resources. A Keep Warm Illinois hotline, 1-877-411-WARM, is also available as another resource as Illinois residents continue to learn about how to save energy, apply for energy assistance, warming centers, clothing drives, energy savings workshops and winter assistance days.