Community Action agencies speak out, saying they are doing a lot but
need help from Congress and the General Assembly
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SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois
Community Action Association has discussed concerns that the home
heating season looming on the horizon could be a hard winter for
"We are hoping for an average to mild winter,"
said Dalitso Sulamoyo, president and chief executive officer of the
association. "But, we are concerned about the adequacy of resources
that are available to Community Action agencies to meet current
Angela Stoltzenburg, executive director of the Central Illinois
Economic Development Corp., said: "Historically, community need for
home energy assistance has always exceeded our resources. This year,
we are already seeing a great increase in the number of people who
are contacting us for assistance. We need additional funding now
more than ever."
John Colgan, vice president for public policy at the Illinois
Community Action Association, said, "Just take a look at the
evidence." According to recent news stories, Colgan said,
"Illinoisans are facing a multidimensional energy problem." Among
current issues discussed, he cited:
- Unprecedented fossil fuel prices, with natural gas prices
expected to rise by 50 percent.
- A very limited supply of natural gas.
- The Gulf Coast portion of the existing supply has limited
access, due to damage from hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.
- A significant increase in poverty with decline in real
income for typical households.
Dwight Lucas, president and chief executive officer of East
Central Illinois Community Action Agency in Danville, said, "We are
looking at the task before us and hoping that Congress and the
General Assembly are going to share our concerns and need for
Sulamoyo, the president of the state association, pointed out
that Community Action agencies are doing everything they can do to
be ready for expected weather emergencies. "We are organizing a
partnership with all social service networks in Illinois to educate
LIHEAP customers on energy-efficient measures they can take to
reduce energy costs," he said. "We are partnering with the state of
Illinois and numerous other service networks to begin an educational
and outreach plan designed to educate our target population. LIHEAP
customers need to be prepared for what they may encounter."
The Illinois Community Action Association also called on the
General Assembly and Congress to respond with increased resources.
"It is truly time to put the politics aside and create a bipartisan
approach to address this vital need," Lucas said. "How are we
expected to mount an adequate response to this obvious problem with
the same resources as last year? We need help, and we need it now."
[to top of second column in this article]
Colgan pointed to
House Bill 466 as a means for the General Assembly to provide
some emergency assistance to the LIHEAP program. "This plan would
make approximately $8 million available to low-income consumers
through the LIHEAP program," he said. "This is low-hanging fruit and
would a very good first step." The bill is pending in the Illinois
House on calendar order of concurrence for a Senate amendment and
could be placed on the governor's desk immediately.
He also said, "In addition to HB 466, we need a more
comprehensive approach to energy assistance in Illinois." He said
that a growing network of organizations are advocating for the
Illinois Affordable Energy Plan, which is outlined in Rep. Marlow
House Bill 465. "It is time for everyone to admit that energy
prices are too high," Colgan said. "Low-income people cannot afford
energy in Illinois, and we need to everything we can as a Community
Action network to change that."
Another topic discussed at a recent Statehouse news conference
was the current congressional debate concerning increased funding
for LIHEAP. "There are several proposals that are floating in
Congress," Colgan said. "We want them to just put their heads
together and figure out a way to address this critical issue," he
said. "Community Action agencies are doing everything we can think
of, but we need Congress to quit taking and start taking action."
About the Illinois Community Action Association
The Illinois Community Action Association is a membership
organization that serves as the network for Community Action
agencies in Illinois. Among various services provided by the
agencies, most operate the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance
Program. The state association strives to raise the health,
education and economic standards of Illinois' low-income population.
[Illinois Community Action
Association news release]