CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — It is the first day to start signing up for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, that helps thousands of people in Champaign County.

The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission is opening the aid in phases. Starting Monday, seniors 60 years of age and older, households with children 5 years old or younger, and people getting social security benefits for a disability can start an application.

Program Manager Dawn Rear said they are carrying out 135 meetings a day to get people signed up. She said LIHEAP helps about 10,000 people in the county.

“Myself, and my whole team, we feel like we’re making an impact on people’s lives by [being] able to maintain their utilities, and then those that come in and are disconnected, that we’re able to restore their utility,” Rear said.

Next month, the program will be opened to people who have had utility services disconnected. In December, people at 200% or more below the poverty line can sign up.

Rear said the need for LIHEAP increases every year. Last year, the program added 1,500 more households. She said escalating costs for energy is the main reason more people are looking for help.

Rear said the best way to sign up is to go into one of their three locations as opposed to calling or signing up online. People can go to the Brookens Center in Urbana, the Round Barn Center in Champaign, or the Rantoul Business Center.