Tuesday, April 19


Governor expands emergency utility assistance to qualifying applicants

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[APRIL 19, 2005]  CHICAGO -- Acting at the direction of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, the state's low-income energy assistance program will step in and provide emergency energy assistance grants to income-eligible households before their heat source is cut off.

"Common sense dictates that if a person is eligible for energy assistance, we should take action and prevent them from being disconnected from their heat source, instead of waiting until after they have suffered through the hardship of having their utility service disconnected," the governor said.

The Department of Public Aid's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program already provides some assistance to help low-income families maintain their energy service. Also, LIHEAP provides emergency assistance grants to restore energy service after it has been disconnected due to nonpayment.

The governor directed the Department of Public Aid to expand eligibility for emergency assistance payments to include income-qualified utility customers whose home heating service is slated for disconnection.

"In the past, we have often heard that the state can't change the way it provides a particular service because ‘that's the way we've always done it,'" the governor said. "Well, that excuse doesn't fly in this administration."

"LIHEAP is an excellent program assisting those most in need," said state Rep. Edward Acevedo. "I am pleased that this program will provide energy assistance to a group of deserving families when they'll need it most."

"With ever-increasing utility bills, low-income seniors and families are struggling to make ends meet," said state Rep. Marlow Colvin. "This grant will keep many people from having to make the difficult choice between paying for basic needs such as food or medicine and paying their utility bills."

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Peoples Energy is supporting the implementation of the new policy, which began Monday. The Department of Public Aid is coordinating with other utilities so that they will soon begin notifying the state about imminent disconnections. Utility customers facing disconnection should contact the local agency administering LIHEAP in their area to apply for benefits.

Ameren and the Illinois Valley Economic Development Corporation successfully carried out a pilot project this year to proactively reach out to the utility's customers who were within days of losing their energy service. In the project, customers facing a loss of service were offered the opportunity to apply for regular LIHEAP benefits.

Since Sept. 1, 2004, the Department of Public Aid has provided energy assistance to more than 295,000 households. Almost $10 million of the $152 million allocated for energy assistance payments is still available. LIHEAP's local administering agencies will continue to accept applications for benefits through April 30 or until funds are exhausted. For more information and to locate local agencies, visit www.liheapillinois.com.

[News release from the governor's office]


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