Assistance program helps pay winter heating bills

CHICAGO—Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced that the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in Illinois is now underway for the upcoming winter season. Illinois households with disabled or elderly members, and those who are disconnected from their heat source, may now apply for heating assistance at locations throughout the state.

“With natural gas prices expected to increase dramatically, we are encouraging all potentially eligible or vulnerable households to apply for LIHEAP as soon as possible,” Blagojevich said. “In the meantime, everyone should continue to try and pay something on their utility bill and work with the utility company to avoid disconnection.”

Total funding for LIHEAP this winter is approximately $144 million, with $79 million from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Block Grant and $65 million from the state’s Supplemental Low Income Energy Assistance fund. LIHEAP funds are administered through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

“A sluggish economy, coupled with the high cost of natural gas, makes LIHEAP a critical program that can help ensure our families are warm and safe this winter,” said DCEO Director Jack Lavin.

The energy assistance program is geared to households with incomes up to 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. A family of one can have a monthly income of no more than $1,123, a two-person household no more than $1,515 and a family of four an income no greater than $2,300. Benefits are provided directly to the household’s gas or electric utility or delivered fuel dealer for households that heat with fuel oil or propane.

Benefits include payments to utilities or fuel dealers on behalf of eligible households to help reduce energy bills, and emergency assistance to help disconnected households regain energy services. In limited instances where heat is included in rent, and rent is greater than 30 percent of a household’s income, a small cash payment may be made directly to the household.

LIHEAP is operated throughout the state by a network of local agencies that work with utilities, determine eligibility and provide benefits to households. Anyone wishing to apply should contact the local agency in the county where they live. Additional assistance is available by calling the toll-free LIHEAP information line at 1-800-252-8643.

Local agencies providing LIHEAP assistance:

• Northwestern Illinois Community Action Agency, 103-109 N. Chicago Ave. in Freeport. Call 815/232-3141. Counties served: JoDaviess and Stephenson.

• Rockford Human Services Department, 612 N. Church St., in Rockford. Call 815/987-5782. Counties served: Boone and Winnebago.

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