09/01/2011 11:50 am ET Updated Oct 31, 2011

Illinois' Low-Income Heating Assistance Program Could Be Slashed By 60 Percent

Low-income individuals, senior citizens and the disabled are being warned by the state to apply as early as possible for state and federal assistance in paying their heating bills this winter as funds for the program are running low.

As CBS Chicago reports, families who rely on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to pay their energy bills and keep their homes cool were forced to go without assistance this summer. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which oversees the program, prioritized their newly limited funding to help those who qualify for the program stay warm during the fast-approaching winter months.

"While we would have liked to have offered services both in the summer and in the winter, our priority is the winter program," department spokeswoman Marcelyn Love explained to CBS. "We have maintained as much funding as possible to help protect people this winter."

Earlier this month, the heating assistance program was reportedly facing a drastic cut in federal funding -- from $98 million to $41 million -- leaving behind a hole that states will inevitably not be able to fill.

Senior citizens and individuals with disabilities can begin to apply for the program Thursday. Low-income families with children can apply as early as Oct. 1, while all others will have to wait until Nov. 1, WJBC reports.

In order to qualify for the program on the basis of income, a single person must report a monthly income no greater than $1,361. A two-person household's maximum monthly income can be $1,839.

In 2011, the department's drafted 2012 plan reported [PDF] that, of the eligible population of over 860,000 households, just over 60 percent utilized the program -- far exceeding their 35 percent service target. Despite this clear discrepancy, the department's proposed service target goal for 2012 remains fixed at 35 percent.

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