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Millions Of Dollars Still Up For Grabs From State For Illinois Families To Get Help With Utility Bills And More

CHICAGO (CBS) -- You don't have to win the lottery, the state still wants to give you free money. Millions of dollars are up for grabs; cash meant help with bills you're falling behind on.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory looks for the catch.

Some folks are wired to be very organized. Latonya Goodson is one them.

"I'm used to being able to keep up with the finances," she said.

She's a mother of three, with another on the way, plus:

"I go to South Suburban College, and I'm also a school bus driver," she said.

Add in remote learning and multiply by pandemic-related stress, and Goodson got tangled up in overdue utility bills; hundreds of dollars late.

"As an adult, you gotta look at yourself and say how did I get here?" she said.

Enter Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity deputy director David Wortman and a pot of free money through the "Help Illinois Families" initiative.

"Families are receiving an average of $600 per house," he said.

Millions of Illinois residents qualify for the cash. So why aren't more chirping about this?

Illinois received $90 million dollars extra in utility assistance from the federal government last year. That's help for at least 100,000 more families than normal.

You would think it would get snapped up right away, yet seven months have gone by and less than half of the free money has been claimed.

Asked if he's surprised there's still so much money left at this point, Wortman said no.

"I mean, it's a lot to get out the door," he said.

Applications also might be slow to come in, because of moratoriums on utility shutoffs, Wortman said. Statewide bans on power and gas shutoffs can be a lifesaver and a crutch.

"What can sometimes happen is people will allow their bills to stack up and we really don't want that to happen," Wortman said.

Though it's electronic, there is an application process for the Help Illinois Families program.

"You have time for it, because it's fairly short and to the point," Goodson said.

Consider Goodson's experience. She got $266 in help on her electricity bill, and had her gas bill zeroed out.

"A lot of people, they kind of shy away from certain programs. They feel like they're embarrassed," she said.

Not her. She's a proud momma, happy she swallowed her pride to get back on track.

The free money is limited to people with a certain income, which varies based on household size. For example, a family of four making about $4,000 a month can qualify.

The cash can be used for utilities and other things like food.

You can fill out an application online by clicking here.

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