SPRINGFIELD – The state and federal dollars set aside for Illinois' Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program will go a little farther this year, thanks to concessions made by major utility companies.
At the state's request, Ameren, Nicor Gas, Peoples' Energy and Commonwealth Edison have agreed to waive reconnection costs and suspend deposit requirements for LIHEAP customers. Those costs can add $400 or more to a heating bill, according to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office.
The companies' help will mean all of the program's energy assistance dollars will be used directly on heating homes, Blagojevich announced on Tuesday.
"With home heating costs expected to increase by as much as 70 percent this winter, the LIHEAP program will be more important than ever for senior citizens and families that are just barely getting by," he said in a written release. "I want to thank Ameren, Nicor, Peoples' Gas, and ComEd for working with us to ensure that every dollar of LIHEAP aid will go toward keeping people warm during the difficult months ahead."
In addition to waiving the reconnection costs and deposit requirements, Ameren, Nicor Gas and Peoples' Energy have agreed to something called the Good Samaritans initiative. For customers with account balances that are less than $3,000, but too high to be covered by the LIHEAP grant alone, the three companies have agreed to restore service if the customer pays $250 or 20 percent of their remaining balance, whichever is less.
Commonwealth Edison has agreed to allow reconnection with payment of 20 percent of the outstanding balance.
And all four companies have agreed not to disconnect residential heating customers for nonpayment between December 1, 2005 and March 31, 2006, even if temperatures rise above 32 degrees during that time, according to Blagojevich's office.
"Our basic approach is to work with our customers and help them find a way to manage their bills so that they can maintain their service," said Shirley Swarthout, spokeswoman for Ameren Corp. "These commitments that we have made are in keeping with that overall approach. The Good Samaritan Initiative, for example, was introduced two winters ago. We supported the initiative when it was first introduced and we will do that again this year."
LIHEAP helps families struggling to pay their heating bills by making payments to utility companies on their behalf, helping to reconnect heat that has been cut off, and in some cases supplementing rent when heat is included in that payment.
To qualify, household income must be at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. For a single person, the income limit is $1,196 a month, while a two-person household can make as much as $1,604 per month and still qualify. A family of four can earn up to $2,420 a month.
According to the governor's office, there is about $150 million in state and federal funds available to support the LIHEAP program this year, which is expected to cover approximately 300,000 Illinois households.
LIHEAP grants are provided on a first come, first served basis.
Households with disabled or elderly residents may apply now, as well as those currently without home heating due to service disconnections. All other households meeting the income requirements may apply at their local administering agency beginning Nov. 1.
In Champaign County, The Urban League of Champaign County administers the program, while Embarras River Basin Agency handles applications from Coles, Douglas and Edgar counties. Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion County residents can apply at the East Central Illinois Community Action Agency, and Central Illinois Economic Development Corporation handles DeWitt and Piatt counties.
For more information, visit www.liheapillinois.com .or call the toll-free LIHEAP information line at 1-800-252-8643.