Metro-East News

Energy bill assistance inquiries flood St. Clair County phone lines

Phone calls on Monday from people looking to apply for energy bill assistance flooded into the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department.

Monday was the first day people were able to call to set up an appointment to receive help this year through the federally funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department is the local administrator of the assistance program.

So many calls came in that some people had difficulty getting through, heard a busy-signal or were disconnected after a third ring.

Intergovernmental Grants Department Executive Director Terry Beach said the department receives complaints every year. On Monday, he was looking into increasing phone capacity, but adding phone lines maybe cost prohibitive, Beach said.

Because of staffing limitations, the IGD can only have people call to make appointments on Mondays.

We have every person at every desk taking phone calls. We’re doing our best.

Mary Pulliam, St. Clair County LIHEAP coordinator

Counties had to delay the date they would take LIHEAP applications this year by one month because of the state budget impasse. LIHEAP is a federal program, but the money first passes through the state coffers before reaching local county-level administrators.

The additional money from the state to supplement the program also isn’t expected to come in, which would reduce the amount of people who can be helped.

St. Clair County in the past has been able to help about 8,000 applicants a year with energy assistance, Beach said.

The IGD can only schedule appointments 60 days in advance, and appointments for the first 30 days are full. Six appointments are scheduled every 30 minutes. This year’s program runs from Oct. 1 through May 31, or until funding is exhausted.

For those who are still trying to schedule an appointment, IGD staff encourages them to continue to call, said Mary Pulliam, St. Clair County LIHEAP coordinator.

“We have every person at every desk taking phone calls,” Pulliam said. “We’re doing our best.”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

For more information about LIHEAP, call 618-257-9246.