Illinois LIHEAP Program Starting One Month Later This Year

Champaign County LIHEAP Program Manager Dawn Rear.

LIHEAP Program Coordinator for Champaign County Dawn Rear, with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.

Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

The people who run LIHEAP for Champaign County plan to come to work early on the morning of Friday, September 1, to greet first-day applicants for the program that helps low-income households with their home heating bills. But all they can tell applicants is: come back in thirty days.

September 1 is the usual start date for LIHEAP, which stands for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. But this year, the state of Illinois is starting the program one month later, on October 1. LIHEAP provides help with home heating bills during colder months until May 31. No LIHEAP applications are taken until the program’s formal start date each year.

Champaign County’s LIHEAP Program Manager, Dawn Rear, says the delay may be due to the actions of state lawmakers, who waited until after the start of the fiscal year to approve a budget.

“I think because it wasn’t signed by July 1, which is when our actual program year starts, the state just didn’t want to take the chance.”

The LIHEAP program in Illinois is administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. A DCEO spokesperson did not return a call seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

The main funding for LIHEAP comes from the federal government, and Rear says there is enough money coming to help the 5,100-6,200 Champaign County residents who use the program each year.

She says state LIHEAP funding this year will allow her to replace a retiring employee — but that she plans to hire the replacement on a temporary basis, in case another state budget impasse arises next year.

Rear says state funding also pays for another program related to LIHEAP called PIPP, for Percentage of Income Payment Plan. Clients in that program receive financial aid to help pay home heating bills on a monthly basis, instead of in a lump sum. Rear says the state funding for PIPP will not be enough to allow for any new applicants for the program in Champaign County. But she says if the budget impasse had continued, she would have had to suspect the PIPP program altogether.

Applications for the LIHEAP program in Champaign County are taken at the Regional Planning Commission office at the Champaign County Brookens Center in Urbana — but not until October First.

Story source: WILL