“Social safety net” is an occasionally vague political discourse term, wielded circumstantially as cudgel or badge of pride.
Here’s one example: The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity administers Help Illinois Families. Using the established framework of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, along with Community Services Back Grants, the current fiscal year budget aims to leverage federal allocations to provide help with things like the cost of utilities, rent, temporary shelter, food, career training and placement and financial management education.
To qualify, a household must prove total gross income falls under certain benchmarks. For one person, the limit is $2,430 in the most recent 30 days, or $29,160 per year. For a family of four, the limit is $60,000. For six people it’s $80,560. (The state minimum wage is $13 per hour; at 40 hours per week, the 52-week gross income is $27,040.)
According to a Sept. 1 news release, the state can spend $237 million on energy bills alone in the current program year, which runs from Oct. 2 through Aug. 15. For the first month, applications are limited to households with one member age 60 or older, age 5 or younger or a documented long-term disability. As of Nov. 1, the window opens for households cut off from their utility or under an imminent threat of disconnection. On Dec. 1 any household meeting the income requirement can apply.
Last year the state reported helping 311,214 households, averaging more than $1,000 per recipient bill payer. The state also helps administer a Home Weatherization Assistance ideally stretching its utility bill help by making living spaces more energy efficient.
Detailed information is available at HelpIllinoisFamilies.com. The site includes a free application link and explains all aid is subject to both funding eligibility and verification of income standards. It also points to a list of the local agencies that directly administer the programs, sorted by county.
That listing is useful not only for people in need but also those seeking to help. The local agency sites tend to have tabs detailing volunteer opportunities. Making an applicable financial contribution usually is a matter of a few clicks, or perhaps an email, to identify a specific organization, like a food pantry or homeless shelter.
To further enhance the power of all the charities involved in sustaining this particular net, lawmakers could consider offering an increased income tax credit to individuals and business that contribute to qualified organizations, perhaps as much as 75% with an annual limit of $1 million per taxpayer.
There would be additional paperwork involved, for donors and recipient organizations, but enacting such a program would demonstrate commitment to providing for basic needs and incentivize generous Illinoisans to become partners.