Mayor Richard M. Daley today reminded Chicagoans that money remains in federal and local programs that provide assistance to residents who are having difficulty paying their winter heating bills.
"Every winter, we know that many Chicagoans will have difficulty paying for the cost of heating their homes," Paul Volpe, the Mayor's Chief of Staff, said substituting for Daley in a news conference held at the City's Department of Family and Support Services Center, 10 S. Kedzie Av.
"In these tough economic times, more families are living paycheck to paycheck and some of them are faced with the very real decision of paying their utility bill or buying food. So it is important that we use every tool and program available to us to help our hard-working residents deal with the challenge of the recession.
"One of the most effective of these tools is the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program - known as LIHEAP," he said.
LIHEAP provides one-time bill payment assistance to income eligible households.
About $40 million in assistance funding still available for Cook County through the program for this winter, Volpe said.
Typically, about two-thirds of that amount would be allocated to Chicago.
LIHEAP is a first come-first served program, so it's critical that if residents need help, they need to find out if they're eligible and find the nearest application office.
Volpe said that this winter, the City knows there are some households who are in need of even greater assistance. These families have applied for LIHEAP but the standard grant is not enough to cover their reconnection fees.
"That is why today we are announcing in partnership with the Illinois Department of Health and Family services that the eligible grant for disconnected households will be increased to $1,000 from the current $750.
"We know that there are almost 1,000 customers in Chicago alone who have applied for LIHEAP but may still not have heat. This $250 increase will meet their urgent need," he said.
He also announced that the City, in partnership with the Attorney General and Peoples Gas, will be provide bill payment assistance to over 40 homeless shelters in the City.
"These important allies to the City's neediest individuals and families have seen their operating costs rise steeply over the last year. This is true just when their services are most urgently needed," Volpe said.
Residents can get information about LIHEAP by calling 311, or the Community and Economic Development Agency of Cook County, which is the agency that manages this program locally, at 1-800-571-CEDA.
They can also get help with the LIHEAP program at the city's six Department of Family and Support Services Centers on Wednesdays.
LIHEAP was funded at as much as $135 million this winter for all of Cook County, an increase of about 20 percent over last year's funding.
131,780 Chicago residents have already received a LIHEAP grant this heating season and that 12,370 Chicagoans have had their heating service re-connected a result of a LIHEAP grant.
"The average grant is about $430, so you can see that with $40 million left, there's enough money to help thousands of Chicago and Cook County residents pay their utility bills this winter," Volpe said.
Volpe also reminded residents about two other programs that provide assistance in getting through winter that still have funds available.
The Share the Warmth Program is supported with $840,000 from the City's Skyway funds and up to $700,000 from Peoples Energy to provide matching grants to help qualifying Peoples customers pay their gas bills.
And the City's Emergency Housing Assistance Program has about $6.7 million available to provide grants to help low-income home owners make emergency home repairs to roofs, porches and furnaces during the winter.
Residents can get more information on both programs by calling 311.
“Winter is about half over, but there are many weeks of cold weather still to come. It’s part of our responsibility to help people who need help the most, and during winter in Chicago, that means people who are having trouble paying their heating bills,” Volpe said.