New Bill Preserves Utility Assistance Funding for Champaign County’s Most Vulnerable Households

New Bill Preserves Utility Assistance Funding for Champaign County’s Most Vulnerable Households

A bill that preserves supplemental state funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) received unanimous bipartisan support in both the Illinois House and Senate and now awaits a signature from Governor J.B. Pritzker to become law. House Bill 4471, sponsored by Representative Carol Ammons in the House and Senator Paul Faraci in the Senate, removes the sunset clause from the Illinois Energy Assistance Act, which was scheduled to sunset on January 1, 2025.

The bill addresses the variability of federal LIHEAP funding and ensures the continuity and further development of energy assistance and related policies and programs within the state. “We are extremely grateful that our two legislators took the lead by working together to safeguard this critical program which benefits Champaign County residents and many other families across the state,” said RPC Chief Executive Officer Dalitso Sulamoyo.

Low-income households are often unable to afford essential utility services and other necessities, such as food, shelter, and medical care. Since the costs of collecting past-due bills and uncollectible balances are reflected in rates paid by all ratepayers, the preservation of the state’s supplemental LIHEAP funding should prove to be beneficial to all Illinois citizens.

“The state LIHEAP funding is a critical component of the safety net for the working poor and households on limited fixed incomes,” stressed Representative Ammons. “Not extending the Energy Assistance Act beyond January 1 would have put many vulnerable households at risk for their health and safety because they would not have been able to afford utilities for their homes.” She also points out that utility assistance is a critical component in preventing homelessness throughout Illinois because a failure to maintain utilities often results in eviction.

The bill passed in the Illinois House on April 18, 2024, by a 107-0 vote; and in the Illinois Senate on May 15, 2024, by a 57-0 vote. “If we want to help keep people in their homes, especially those on a fixed income, this is the right thing to do,” said Senator Faraci (D-Champaign). “The extension of this program is an investment in the health and well-being of our community.”

Had House Bill 4471 not passed, over 174,000 households statewide could have been affected, while 30,000 households on the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) would have been dropped from the program and lost all their benefits on January 1. During the 2023-24 LIHEAP program year, the RPC allocated a total of $6,258,943 to 8,828 households in Champaign County, including $484,928.00 of funds that had been earned to support LIHEAP program staff and administration that were converted to use for client assistance funding.