The City of Chicago announced Feb. 1 that it will provide low-income residents with up to $200 a year to pay home heating bills for the next five years.
For every dollar residents pay on their past-due heating bills, the city will contribute $1 toward the balance. People's Energy Corp. also will match residents' payments of up to $200 with funds from "Share the Warmth," a program that assists people who cannot afford the costs of heat and energy.
"This is another part of Mayor Daley's continued commitment to keep Chicago affordable for all residents," said John F. Harris, director of the City's Office of Budget and Management. "We know people need help, as the available assistance programs are not providing enough."
The city will use $3.2 million in proceeds from the sale of the Chicago Skyway for home heating assistance grants to low-income families over the next five years, including $640,000 in 2005.
In January, the city spent roughly $21,000 to reconnect 155 homes with gas service. In addition, the city?"along with ComEd, the Chicago-based component of Exelon Energy?"will spend $90,000 to restore electric heat service to low-income residents. The remaining $530,000 will be applied to the Share the Warmth program, including $500,000 in grants and $30,000 for administrative costs.
To be eligible for Share the Warmth, the income of a family of four must not exceed $37,000, according to Myer Blank, executive director of the City's Office of Budget and Management.
"The true beneficiaries of this partnership ... are those who won't have to choose between food or heat this winter," said Lt. Colonel David Grindle of the Salvation Army, which helps families in need apply for financial assistance.
Last year, Share the Warmth helped 3,000 low-income residents afford the cost of home heating.
Residents can apply for assistance at one of 10 Salvation Army locations in the city. Customers can call 311 to find out if they qualify for assistance and to locate the closest Salvation Army service site. Eligible customers must pay part of their past-due heating bill within 15 days of registration before the City and People's Energy will apply the two-for-one matching grant to the customer's bill.
Low-income Chicagoans may already be receiving money through the federally-funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Rod Sierra, of People's Energy, said that while the program is valuable, it does not provide enough funding to help recipients pay their heating bills.
"Higher energy costs and low temperatures mean that low-income families need increased financial relief from the federal government to help them keep their homes warm," Sierra said.
In conjunction with People's Energy and the National Fuel Funds, supporters of lowering energy costs and energy providers gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday to support additional funding for the energy assistance program.