LIHEAP was created by Congress in 1981 with the specific purpose of assisting low income households with their energy utility bills. The program targets low income households who pay a high proportion of their income toward their home energy needs, an average of about 26%. Through this program, many of these households are able to afford their utilities and keep them turned on during harsh weather conditions. The program serves households who are at or below 150% of the federal poverty guideline. This includes many households that are working but poor, on a fixed income, such as retired seniors, or on disability assistance.
There are two sources of funding that are used to provide LIHEAP assistance in Illinois. The first source is the federal LIHEAP block grant which is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the federal level and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) at the state level. The federal funding typically represents about 2/3 of the entire program.
The second source is state funding. The state funding was created through electric utility restructuring legislation in 1998 to supplement the federal funding. The state funds represent about 1/3 of the entire program. It is important to note that the resources generated for the State LIHEAP Supplemental Fund may be used only for assistance to low income customers of participating utilities that assess the surcharge. It is also important to note that the state LIHEAP funds are not sourced out of the state’s General Revenue Fund (GRF), but that they are generated from regulated utilities to specifically provide utility assistance to low income households. This fund has ensured that 38 percent of eligible Illinois families receive utility assistance.
Service Delivery Structure:
DCEO subcontracts with 35 community based organizations that then provide energy assistance to eligible households in all 102 counties of the state. These agencies conduct outreach, income verification and make payments directly to the utilities on behalf of qualified households. These community based organizations provide other social services that benefit LIHEAP eligible households.
Generally, the largest component of the LIHEAP program involves heating assistance during the coldest months of the year. There is a cooling assistance component if funds are available and temperatures are dangerously high in the warmer months of the year. The following represents the services provided to low income households through the state LIHEAP fund:
Prioritization of Services:
The LIHEAP program in Illinois prioritizes services to the most vulnerable households as follows: