Lisa Wallace is on disability and had plans this month to apply for help in paying her electricity bill.
But when the 49-year-old Swansea resident called the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department, she was told she had to wait a little longer.
Because of the state budget impasse, St. Clair and Madison counties have pushed back the application dates for when people can begin applying this year for the federally funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Federal money that passes through the state to local agencies was held up because of the budget impasse. Legislators and the governor’s office eventually agreed to release the money, even though the two sides have yet to agree on a state budget.
“I wasn’t sure if it was going to be possible this year (to get the help),” said Wallace, who lives in a duplex with her daughter and two grandchildren. “I’m not sure of any other resources out there.”
In previous years, the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department and the Madison County Community Development Department would begin allowing seniors and people with disabilities to apply for LIHEAP help Sept. 1 of each year.
Applicants with children younger than 6 usually could begin applying Oct. 1, and any other applicants who meet income requirements usually could begin asking for help Nov. 1.
All those dates have now been pushed back by one month.
Wallace used the program last year to pay her electricity bills for three months, each about $180.
“I believe the program is important for everyone,” Wallace said. “There’s a lot of people out there struggling to pay bills because the way the economy is.”
Terry Beach, director of the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department, said he received about 100 inquiries while working a booth at the Convoy of Hope event in O’Fallon last month. About three-quarters of the questions were about LIHEAP.
People who receive money through the LIHEAP program, which ends May 31 every year, can only receive the help once a year.
St. Clair and Madison counties also have been able to help more people with the state’s Percentage of Income Payment Program. However, that extra money is being held up as the budget impasse continues.
In Madison County, a little more than 7,000 residents received energy assistance last fiscal year. Of those, 1,200 received assistance through the state’s PIPP program, said Jeff Wehling, county spokesman.
“There’s a lot of people who need help,” Wehling said.
St. Clair County in the past has been able to help about 8,000 applicants a year, Beach said.
Without the additional state PIPP money, the intergovernmental grants department anticipates helping only 4,900 to 5,000 applicants this year, Beach said.
“We don’t anticipate the state (money) coming in anytime soon,” Beach said.