NEWS

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November 21, 2004

So sue me

Edelman, Combs, Latturner & Goodwin, a Chicago law firm, filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday against the Illinois Department of Public Aid. The suit alleged that the department has not adequately processed requests of low-income residents for financial aid to pay energy bills. The case will be heard Friday morning in federal court.

Under current law, the department has 48 hours to process financial aid requests filed by eligible persons whose electricity or heat has been shut off. For emergency situations, the department must process requests within 18 hours of filing.

"A lot of the residents applying for aid are people with heart conditions, elderly people, people with disabilities," Al Hofeld, the prosecuting attorney for the case, said. "Our main plaintiff filed her request on September 10 and the Department of Public Aid has not yet processed it."

The plaintiff, Maxine Randall, filed on behalf of her mother, who is 80 years old, has Parkinson's disease, and, according to Hofeld, "is quite aware that it's going to get cold next week, making it all the more important that her electricity and heat be turned back on."

The firm has ordered that the department begin processing requests and comply with proper processing of all future requests. Hofeld called it "inexcusable" that the department has ignored the impending winter and the requests of Chicago residents.

Aid is granted under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federal program initiated over 30 years ago that gives money to the states to be distributed to residents who are financially unable to pay their energy bills. Any low-income person earning 150 percent of the poverty level is eligible for funding. For example, if the poverty level was $800 dollars per month, a person making $1,200 dollars per month would be eligible for funding.

Hofeld said that more residents, including many from the Woodlawn neighborhood, will be included as plaintiffs in the case.