In a visit to Springfield Tuesday, Gov. JB Pritzker announced forthcoming state aid for local governments struggling with rising natural gas prices and help for students and families struggling with food insecurity.
Last year after Pritzker shut down schools as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Illinois, his administration joined a federal program aimed at helping feed students already enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.
The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program disperses prepaid cards to eligible students in order to purchase food, much like a Link Card through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
As the state once again prepares to participate in the P-EBT program, Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Grace Hou said her agency is working with the State Board of Education to identify eligible students.
“Families do not need to apply for this round of P-EBT benefits,” Hou said. “They will get one P-EBT card per eligible child, and these cards can be used to purchase food items at EBT authorized retailers, which include most grocery stores in Illinois.”
These cards will be mailed to the home addresses schools have on file beginning the week of March 8. Hou stressed it is important for parents and guardians to not throw away said cards when they arrive.
Pritzker said it’s important to continue participation in this program as a child’s access to food strongly impacts their academic performance and health.
“A child whose family is food insecure has tremendous difficulty focusing on school compared to her classmates who don’t go to school hungry,” Pritzker said. “In a pandemic, a nutritious diet is more than the fuel to get through e-learning, it’s also support for a strong immune system.”
In this latest round, the state will receive around $750 million in order to help feed 1 million Illinois students and their families.
Aside from Illinois, 15 other states and Puerto Rico are also receiving food assistance funding from the federal government.
Rising Natural Gas Prices
Pritzker also said Tuesday he’s asking the Illinois Finance Authority to provide $15 million in low-interest loans for communities impacted by skyrocketing natural gas prices following recent winter storms.
States like Texas are still reeling from the decimation of its power grid last week, which has left consumers with record high utility bills
Similarly high utility costs have also been felt in certain Illinois communities, with the hardest hit areas being small towns in downstate Illinois.
For example, persistently cold weather caused the village of Franklin in Morgan County to spend more than double its annual utility budget in February alone.
Additionally, the city of Pittsfield in Pike County — which has a population of around 4,000 — received a natural gas bill of $1.4 million after one week in February. This amount equates to approximately 15% of the city’s annual budget.
Pritzker said the low-interest loans for municipalities could prevent cities and towns blowing major holes in their budgets.
“Our families and our communities are proud and they’re resilient,” Pritzker said. “But these aren’t problems anyone should have to tackle alone. The state of Illinois will not leave our people out in the cold.”
The governor also said he is hoping for federal assistance for rising power costs — a discussion kicked off nationally by the disaster in Texas.