PEORIA — When JC lost his job last October, his first concern was being able to keep a roof over his head and the lights on in his apartment for himself and his children.
He turned to the local community action agency that helps people in need, the Peoria Citizens Committee for Economic Opportunity, and officials at PCCEO helped him get funds to cover his rent and to enroll in an energy assistance program.
"Without them, I would have been evicted. Through them, I was able to apply for energy assistance," JC, who asked that his full name not be used as he turned his focus on getting into a career training program, said earlier this summer.
But federal funds for Community Services Block Grant programs — locally including prescription assistance, emergency shelter and transitional shelter — and for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program are at risk under the budget that President Donald Trump proposed to Congress.
His budget would zero out both, PCCEO's president and CEO, McFarland Bragg, said. Doing so would eliminate services for 14,000 individuals in Peoria from the CSBG programs, the vast number of them with annual income at less than half the federal poverty level. Some 6,113 individuals received LIHEAP assistance in the year that ended May 31, with an average benefit of $613.
And in Tazewell and Woodford counties, about 3,200 people applied for LIHEAP assistance with federal funds through Tazwood Community Services Inc., executive director Cindy Bergstrand said.
They aren't meant to be permanent assistance programs — a criticism leveled by proponents of cuts or changes — but instead are designed to give people a leg up, Bragg emphasized.
"One of the core responsibilities for community action programs is to try to help people make it toward self-sufficiency," he said. "We're not going to do everything for them, but we will provide resources for them. ... When they come to us, a lot of times, we're their last resource."
The demographics of those being served are also changing, Bergstrand said, noting that her agency is seeing more people in their 40s or 50s who have lost their jobs, can't find other employment and have run down their savings.
The cuts are far from guaranteed, with resistance to them coming not only from Democrats, but also from a number of Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood.
"This is one example in the budget where I have a disagreement with the president, and where I will be advocating for that program and others," the Peoria Republican said. "LIHEAP funding in particular has been a program that has worked well in my district and has assisted people. I think it has been a wise use of taxpayer money."
But if cuts do come, they're likely to have a profound impact not just on recipients, but also on the agencies themselves. Bragg said he would almost certainly have to reduce his full-time staff of 125 and part-time staff of 20 as programs were eliminated. PCCEO has already had to "weather" uncertainty because of the state budget over the past two years, and that has included other temporary layoffs when state money couldn't be accessed. He said some employees didn't return then, costing precious institutional memory.
Chris Kaergard covers politics and government. He can be reached at email@example.com or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.