The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), the state LIHEAP agency, will likely not be providing help for low-income residents to pay their summer electric bills.
The department has told local agencies that administer LIHEAP not to expect any funding during the summer months. By cutting the summer cooling program, state officials hope to ensure there will be enough money for winter heating assistance. They expect a 60 percent cut in federal funding for LIHEAP for next year; meaning that Illinois’ allocation could go from $246 million to $113 million.
"Though the reduction in federal funding for LIHEAP is unfortunate, the state's decision is necessary to help heat homes across Illinois next winter, which is the program's top priority," department spokesman Mike Claffey said.
He added that state agencies including DCEO, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Department on Aging and the Illinois Department of Public Health will work with local officials to provide cooling centers, wellness checks and other assistance as needed.
When federal funds have been available, Illinois has had a summer cooling assistance program, operating for about two weeks during July. For example, last year it spent $10 million in LIHEAP funds on its cooling program and provided a benefit of up to $150, targeted to income-eligible at-risk households, defined as those with seniors or children less than 36 months of age, or persons with a documented medical condition, such as asthma or terminal illnesses, that can be ameliorated by air-conditioning.
Some local agencies may have limited funding through utilities or charities for electric bill assistance or they may have air conditioners or fans available. Others are asking for donations so they can provide free fans to people who don’t have air conditioning.
Newspaper articles said that if the heat turns severe this summer, the Illinois governor's office could declare a state of emergency, and federal and state agencies would coordinate to provide cooling centers and other help.