The General Assembly just passed and the governor signed a bill that released nearly $3 billion of already-collected money sitting in dedicated funds. Among these are utility ratepayer contributions to the Illinois Supplemental Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund, which supplements the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
These ratepayer contributions are collected through our utility bills and placed in a public trust for the exclusive purpose of aiding our state’s elderly, people with special needs, veterans and poor with the high cost of heat and electricity. I commend the General Assembly and governor for finally releasing these funds as the winter months approach.
Despite this step forward, the bigger budget discussion continues and these funds are still in danger. These SLEAF funds are not general revenue funds and should be off the table as Springfield considers solutions to the current fiscal year and FY17 budgets.
These funds combined with the federal funds only satisfy a small fraction of the state’s overall need. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity estimated that under current state and federal funding levels LIHEAP would only help 35 percent of the roughly 926,000 eligible households in Illinois this year.
The SLEAF fund also helps keep all ratepayers’ bills lower by reducing the “uncollectables” the utilities recover in everyone’s rates.
Given the escalating utility costs, the harsh Illinois winters our residents have had to endure in recent years, and the ongoing hardships due to the budget stalemate and slow economic recovery, these funds are needed more than ever.
Challenging fiscal decisions must be made; however, any budget solutions cannot include consideration of redirecting these much-needed funds into the general revenue fund or reallocating any portion of these funds. It is imperative that the Illinois SLEAF, which aids our most vulnerable residents, be protected.
Miguel del Valle, Commissioner, Illinois Commerce Commission