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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 13, 1999

GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES $3 MILLION IN GRANTS TO HELP DELINQUENT UTILITY CUSTOMERS PAY PAST BILLS

SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today announced that three Illinois utility companies will each receive up to $1 million dollars in federal grants for demonstration projects designed to partially defray the unpaid bills of low-income customers.

Commonwealth Edison, Illinois Power and Nicor Gas will match the funding they receive for the arrearage pilot programs.

"These grants will give thousands of Illinois families a clean start on their utility bills by bringing their delinquent accounts up-to-date," Ryan said. "Many low-income families have built up large utility balances and struggle to pay both current and past bills. Through a partnership between the public and private sector, they now have a chance to clear up that old debt," he added.

On a first-come basis, the pilot programs will accept clients of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) who are at 125 percent or less of the poverty level. Eligible households that participate will receive credit worth two-thirds of their unpaid utility bills. For every dollar in LIHEAP funds that go toward the credit, the utilities will match a dollar. The customer will then be responsible for paying off the remaining third of the bill over several months.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs administers the LIHEAP program, which helps supplement the heating bills of more than 240,000 Illinois households each year.

"The idea behind these arrearage pilot programs is to reduce the number of families that need emergency heating assistance next winter. By encouraging LIHEAP clients and low-income residents to participate in a program that forgives part of their unpaid bills now, they'll be less likely to head into next winter with large overdue balances on their utility bills," DCCA Director Pam McDonough said.

"This program presents a great opportunity to help low income households begin the winter-heating season debt free," said Rene Gonzales, supervisor of system credit for ComEd. Commonwealth Edison customers can call 1-800-Edison1 for more information on the program.

"We're hopeful that any customer who believes he or she qualifies will visit their local LIHEAP agency or call us at 1-800-755-5000 for more information," Deborah Crawford, a credit and collection specialist at Illinois Power said. "Eligible customers will include some who have not been able to access LIHEAP grants in the past."

Dave Lukowicz, manager of credit administration for Nicor Gas, added, "Over the years, we've heard from many of our customers that, once they get behind with their bills, it's very difficult to get back on track. This program is designed to give those customers a clean start." Nicor Gas customers who would like more information about eligibility can call 630-305-9993.

All low-income customers are urged to check into the program as soon as possible. The enrollment period for each utility varies slightly. Eligible customers of Illinois Power are encouraged to sign-up before November 30th. Nicor Gas will accept applications until September 30th, while Commonwealth Edison will accept them until September 15th.


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