URBANA — Darlene Kloeppel, community services director for the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, said the percentage of impoverished people in Champaign County as reported by the Chicago-based Social IMPACT Research Center isn't surprising.
The center reported that Champaign County has the state's third highest percentage of residents living in poverty.
According to the center's report, 23.4 percent of Champaign County residents live in poverty.
Only Jackson (33.7 percent) and Alexander (31.3 percent) counties have a higher poverty rate, according to the study.
Poverty is defined as an annual income below $23,021 for a family of four.
"It is true that we are aware that poverty is rising in this county," Kloeppel said.
Kloeppel said high rates of poverty can be found both in the county's cities and in small towns.
"You are just as likely to find impoverished people in the rural areas of Champaign County as in the urban areas," she said.
Kloeppel said the Regional Planning Commission knows that poverty is on the rise locally because there are more children eligible for free or reduced lunches in Champaign County schools.
Another indication of increased poverty, according to Kloeppel, is a high number of new applicants for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, better known as LIHEAP.
LIHEAP is designed to help eligible low-income households pay for winter energy services.
"Approximately 10 percent of the people who applied this year for public benefits like LIHEAP are first-time applicants," Kloeppel said.
Kloeppel attributes Champaign County's high poverty rate to people getting laid off from their jobs and people getting reduced hours at work.