No state budget means higher bills for low income residents

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CHAMPAIGN--No state budget has low-income residents in Champaign County worrying whether they will be able to afford their energy bills.

Members of Champaign County Health Care Consumers and the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans gathered outside the district offices of Republican lawmakers Tuesday morning to make their fears known.

"In April my power bill was about $40, in May it was about $65, and as you know it hasn't been all that hot," said Mike Short, who has received assistance from the state to pay his bill in the past. "But now that it's going to be hot, it's going to go up to a lot more."

In part because the help the Army veteran received from the state to pay his power bill is on hold.

Governor Bruce Rauner froze funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, this spring.

On July 1st, residents on PIPP, a payment plan program that allowed them to spend no more than six percent of their income on their bills, received notice that it wouldn't be renewed.

"Anyone using LIHEAP or PIPP, it's all gone. There is no funding for anyone," said Jen Tayabji, community organizer at Champaign County Health Care Consumers. "So it's not like the program is slightly reduced in numbers, everyone who was on the program is now not able to use it."

This week, those low-income individuals who used to pay less through those programs will receive their first full energy bills.

"It's not just a slight increase," said Tayabji. "It's going to be two to three times than what they were paying and they got two weeks notice about that."

That increase in bills will force those residents to make cuts in other areas.    

"I was able to afford fresh vegetables and fresh fruits, things like that, you know, that my doctor recommends," said Short. "But now I won't be able to afford that stuff."

And without a state budget, Short doesn't know when he'll be able to afford those things again.

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