Not too long ago I found myself on the phone with a single mother of three who was a bit down on her luck. She had just been furloughed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she was struggling to pay her bills, including her Ameren Illinois bill. After several attempts to work out a payment arrangement, her power was off, unfortunately, disconnected and her kids needed to be online for virtual learning.

As the executive director of the Energy Assistance Foundation's Warm Neighbors Cool Friends program, I often talk to people in situations like these. People who just need a helping hand after finding themselves coping with job loss, a sudden illness or countless other circumstances.

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As the mom and I spoke, I placed a pledge from our program on her account, and within minutes her power came roaring back on. The screams of jubilation on the other end of the line were unmistakable.

Working in partnership with Ameren Illinois and a network of social service agencies all across Illinois, Warm Neighbors Cool Friends provides energy bill payment assistance to more than 2,500 homes every year. While programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) exist to help low-income customers, Warm Neighbors Cool Friends supports moderate-income households – many of whom have never needed or asked for help before.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a surge of moderate-income families needing a helping hand this year, and many of those families don’t know assistance like ours is available to them. For example, if you live alone, and your gross monthly income is between $2,127-$3,722, you are eligible for assistance. A family of 4 with a gross monthly income between $4,367-$7,642 would also qualify. A full list of qualifying income ranges can be found online at

Through Ameren Illinois’ Fresh Start program, an additional $1.2 million is available to help families with a past-due balance pay their energy bills this winter. Our regular heating assistance program requires the customer to make a payment on their Ameren Illinois account and then we match anything they pay up to $350.

Let me answer some frequently asked questions:

Who is eligible for assistance through Warm Neighbors Cool Friends?

Typically, total household income must fall between 200 to 350 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify for bill payment assistance. A full list of eligible income ranges and family sizes is available at

What should I do if I am eligible?

Call your county’s corresponding social service organization and let them know you need Ameren Illinois bill payment assistance. A list of social service agencies by county is available at

Is assistance available in the summer and winter?

Yes! Our winter assistance program is open to all households who qualify. In the summer, we limit assistance to seniors, people with disabilities and those with medical conditions.

Can I donate to Warm Neighbors Cool Friends?

You sure can. Donations are tax deductible, and 100 percent of your donation goes directly to assist those in need. You can donate through your Ameren Illinois utility bill or donate via PayPal or credit card at

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