WEST FRANKFORT -- Gov. J.B. Pritzker made a stop in West Frankfort Monday to announce a number of initiatives designed to aid individuals and families financially impacted by the economic shutdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pritzker made his way to the Crosswalk Community Action Agency in West Frankfort to discuss the expansion of two existing programs, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, and the Community Services Block Grant program, which provide food, utility and other kinds of assistance to people who are struggling financially.
A group of about 40 demonstrators gathered outside the agency to show their displeasure with Pritzker's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pritzker did not acknowledge the protest as he reported on the new programs being funded.
"This is an important step in serving families impacted by the pandemic. Many low-income families and residents are suffering during this time of need, and this relief aid is intended for those who have struggled significantly throughout the pandemic," Pritzker stated.
LIHEAP provides direct financial assistance for low-income people who are having trouble affording their utility bills. The Community Services Block Grant program offers financial help for things like food, shelter and medicine.
Both programs are operated by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Activity. In the budget passed during a special session in May, lawmakers added $90 million to the programs from federal funds, bringing the total available to $275 million, and they expanded eligibility for the programs so they are now available to households with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $52,400 a year for a family of four.
Pritzker also announced a new web portal, HelpIllinoisFamilies.com, where people can pre-apply for benefits under either program. Until recently, it was a federal requirement to apply in person at a local office.
Applicants will be asked for proof of employment, such as pay stubs for the head of the household for the past 30 days; copies of heat and electric bills issued within the past 30 days; a copy of their rental agreement if they are renting their home; and proof of Social Security numbers for all people living in the household.
People who need to talk with someone to walk through the application process can also call a new hotline number, (833) 711-0374.
• Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group staff contributed to this report.