In this article...
In this article, we review who is eligible for Illinois’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and answer the following questions: What are the eligibility requirements for LIHEAP?, What types of benefits are available under LIHEAP?, What is the difference between LIHEAP and the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP)?, What is the process to apply for LIHEAP benefits?, How long does it take to gain LIHEAP benefits?, How are LIHEAP benefits applied or paid?, What if I am denied LIHEAP benefits or the benefit received is incorrect?, and What is the LIHEAP appeal process?
In this article, we review who is eligible for Illinois’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and answer the following questions:
- What are the eligibility requirements for LIHEAP?
- What types of benefits are available under LIHEAP?
- What is the difference between LIHEAP and the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP)?
- What is the process to apply for LIHEAP benefits?
- How long does it take to gain LIHEAP benefits?
- How are LIHEAP benefits applied or paid?
- What if I am denied LIHEAP benefits or the benefit received is incorrect?
- What is the LIHEAP appeal process?
In an effort to assist low income families with maintaining essential utilities throughout the winter months, the government has established the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. This program is available for households that meet the established standards for so long as the program has available funds. LIHEAP is primarily designed to assist with gas or heating related utilities. The program is awarded on a first come, first serve basis so if your household qualifies, it is important to apply for assistance as soon as possible.
What Are The Eligibility Requirements for LIHEAP?
LIHEAP is available for all households that pay a heating or electric utility bill directly or have utilities included in the cost of their rental agreements and meet the financial requirements. The program has established a financial hardship requirement where the household must have an income that is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The Federal Guidelines fluctuate based on how many members are in your household so it is important to determine what the guidelines have established for your household prior to applying. In the event that your rent and your heating or electric utilities are included in your rent, your rent must be greater than 30% of the household income for the 30 days prior to applying for assistance. If you live in public housing or are otherwise not responsible for paying for utilities, you will not be eligible for this program.
Applications are accepted from July 27, 2020 until June 30, 2021 or until funds are depleted. Once the funds are depleted, no more applicants can be approved so it is important to apply as early as possible.
What type of benefits are available under LIHEAP?
LIHEAP offers a one-time benefit for qualified households. The benefit offered under this program is strictly financial and is to be applied to the current and future utility costs. The amount of the benefit is determined based on the income, household size, fuel type, and geographic location of the household. In limited circumstances, a household that is eligible for LIHEAP may be eligible for an alternative program known as Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP).
What is the difference between LIHEAP and Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP)?
LIHEAP is available for any household in the state that meets the eligibility guidelines. As mentioned above, this program will provide a one-time benefit towards the heating costs associated with a household.
The PIPP is available to LIHEAP eligible households who are customers of one of the following utility companies: Ameren Illnois, ComEd, Nicor Gas or People Gas/North Shore Gas. If you are a qualified customer of one of these companies, you can have your utility cost limited to a percentage of your monthly household income. This program comes with the added benefit of assisting in an outstanding balance with those utility companies. The PIPP calls for the utility company set aside any outstanding balance that is on an account. For each month that is paid on time, the outstanding balance is reduced by a set amount. Failure to make your monthly payment on time will see the household removed from the program and any past due amounts will be due immediately so it is important to make timely payments if accepted to PIPP.
What is the process to apply for benefits?
Any household seeking to gain benefits under LIHEAP must apply at the appropriate local county office. A full list of county offices can be found at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity website. Each county is provided with a portion of the available funds and will make the determination at the local level. The application is generally done in person and by appointment. Each municipality is establishing Covid-19 procedures that are specific to their process and also have procedures established for home bound applicants. When attending your application appointment be sure to bring proof of all household income, a current heating and/or electric bill, a copy of any rental agreement demonstrating that heating utilities are included in the rent, Social Security numbers for all household members, and any summary or benefits received from the Department of Human Services.
How long does it take to gain benefits?
After completing the application process, the Agency has thirty (30) days to make and notify the applicant of the determination related to eligibility. If the applicant has received a disconnection notice at the time of application, the Agency will expedite the application and provide a determination within seven (7) days. Any benefits awarded are effective on the determination date.
How are the benefits applied or paid?
In general, any benefit awarded will be paid directly to the utility provider. The utility provider will then credit the awardee’s account with the benefit. In some limited circumstances, the benefit may be issued directly to the applicant.
What if I am denied benefits or the benefit received is incorrect?
When receiving the notification of determination it is possible that the applicant is denied benefits or that the benefit awarded is lower than expected. In the case of a denial or a reduced benefit award, the applicant may appeal the determination. The basis for an appeal must be based on one of the following:
- The application was not processed within 30 days;
- The applicant disagrees with the findings;
- The applicant believes the payment or benefit amount is incorrect;
What is the appeal process?
LIHEAP provides for a three step appeal process. Step one of the appeal is time sensitive so it is important to stay mindful of the associated deadlines. The appeal must be started within 30 days of the determination being received or no later than 60 days from the initial application if no determination is received.
The first step of a timely appeal is to request an informal hearing at the local agency level. This process is conducted by a local hearing officer who will explain how the decision was reached or why there was a delay on the application being processed. If these explanations do not satisfy the applicant’s challenge to the determination, following the informal local hearing, the applicant may request an informal review by the State.
At the informal State review, a hearing officer from the State will review the application and supporting documentation as well as the local agency’s determination. After that review, the State will make a recommendation for upholding the local determination or modifying the benefit determination. Should the informal review not produce a favorable result, the applicant may proceed to a formal hearing.
The formal hearing is conducted before a State hearing officer. At this time, the applicant and the agency will be afforded the chance to present evidence, witnesses, and testimony. They will also be able to cross examine any witnesses and challenge any evidence presented. The applicant has a right to bring an attorney or other representative with them to the formal hearing. A transcript and record of the proceeding will be created. Following the hearing the State’s hearing officer will make a formal ruling on the appeal and benefit award.