Though the first few days of September will feel summer-like, colder weather is on the way as the days get shorter and the nights get longer. And according to a prediction from The Old Farmers Almanac, this year’s winter forecast for the Chicago area includes "bone-chilling cold and loads of snow."
And the colder it gets, the more expensive a household's heating bill becomes. However, many Illinois families can apply for energy and utility bill support through a $300 million state program called "Help Illinois Families," according to a press release from Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Office.
“Every Illinoisan deserves access to reliable energy—regardless of their economic status,” Pritzker said in a press release Wednesday. “Thanks to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), we are making natural gas, propane, and electricity assistance accessible for our state’s families that are feeling the squeeze from rising costs of living."
According to the release, the program offers eligible families financial support in the form of bill assistance for natural gas, propane, electricity and rent payments. Here's how LIHEAP works, and how to apply.
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How LIHEP Works
According to the release, LIHEAP, a $300 million program, provides "one-time payments directly to energy service providers on behalf of recipients." The program runs through September through May, with applications opening Sept. 1.
However, the amount of support varies, "based on the needs of individual families."
In 2021, LIHEAP funding provided a "record-level" assistance to 302,000 households, the release says.
All Illinois households can apply, but only families that meet certain income criteria will be eligible for the program. According to the release, "all families who meet the qualifications and provide proper documentation will receive support until funding is exhausted."
Who Qualifies for LIHEAP Assistance?
According to the release, "families who earn up to two-times the federal poverty level are eligible to receive support through LIHEAP." More specifically, "a family of four making around $55,000 a year or less is eligible," said Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Sylvia I. Garcia.
Here's a further breakdown, by household size and monthly income:
- Household Size: 1
- 30-Day Gross Income: $2,265
- Household Size: 2
- 30-Day Gross Income: $3,052
- Household Size: 3
- 30-Day Gross Income: $3,838
- Household Size: 4
- 30-Day Gross Income: $4,625
- Household Size: 5
- 30-Day Gross Income: $5,412
- Household Size: 6
- 30-Day Gross Income: $6,198
How Much Assistance Do Families Get?
The amount of funding is "based on the needs of individual families," the release states. However, In 2021, recipients of the program received an average of $1,330 per household, the state says.
How to Apply
Families should visit helpillinoisfamilies.com to "submit a request for services." After that request is recieved, an email or phone call to review and confirm your eligibility will follow, which could take a "few weeks," the website says.
According to program officials, "The state estimates that a response could range from days to weeks – based on date of your submittal, availability of funds and the type of services requested. Please keep in mind the volume of requests and it may take longer to hear back from the local agency to complete your request for benefits."
Families can also visit their nearby state assistance agency, or call 1-833-711-0374 for help with the process.
According to the program website, here are the documents needed to verify eligibility:
- Proof of past 30-day income through paystub, check or copy of check showing fixed income amount (e.g. SSA, VA, DHS benefits), or other proof of documentation for any income source
- Utility bill if seeking utility bill assistance
- Lease if seeking rental assistance
- Social security card or ITIN for residents who have them
According to the state, residents without a social security card or a ITIN card can still apply.
Other Financial Aid Programs Available
According to the state, these other programs offer financial assistance to low-income Illinois families:
- Crisis/Reconnection Assistance: Funding is available for families in heating-related emergency situations.
- Furnace Assistance: Based on funding availability, Furnace Assistance may be provided to households that do not have an operating furnace for their residence.
- Home Weatherization Program: The Illinois Home Weatherization Assistance Program (IHWAP) helps low income residents and households conserve fuel and reduce energy costs by making their homes and apartments more energy efficient.
- Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program: The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) provides eligible households with a benefit of up to $400 for water and wastewater services based on poverty level. Households facing the threat of imminent disconnection, or those that have already been disconnected, may be eligible for a benefit of up to $1,500. The application for LIHWAP is open through September 30, 2023, pending funding availability.