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Illinois governor wants to seize LIHEAP funds to help balance budget

March 13, 2015—Govenor Bruce Rauner of Illinois promised Illinoisans that he would patch up the state's more than $6 billion deficit. In his state budget address, Rauner proposed to cut spending to several programs that benefit Illinois's low-income communities. Among those proposed cuts is a grab for the $265 million provided by utility surcharges on ratepayers' bills.

Rauner's proposed budget received much praise from some quarters. They applaud his budget as focusing on spending only that which the state has and spending it on only the essential services, without further burdening taxpayers.

However, critics of Rauner's plan point out that he is stealing from the poor—the population that can least afford to lose the low-income benefits, such as the funds the state provides to the LIHEAP program.

A spokeswoman for Rauner told the press that the LIHEAP changes Gov. Rauner proposes would affect only the state's contribution to that program, not the $330 million that Illinois gets from the federal government for low-income heating help. She also says that "To close a $6 billion budget deficit and address years of fiscal mismanagement, the governor's budget brings Illinois in-line with 20 other states that use only federal dollars to fund the program." She promises those with the greatest need will still be able to benefit from the LIHEAP grants.

According to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, however, even without these cuts they estimate that in 2015 the energy assistance program would only be able to help 35 percent of the eligible families in Illinois. Senator Miguel del Valle also pointed out that, "Following a recession, the slow recovery and two brutal winters, any cuts to this program–further reducing the state's ability to help our residents in dire need–is an unconscionable proposal . . . and a devastating blow to these vulnerable households."

Source: Media reports