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“It kind of broke my heart.”

James Crawford needs his electricity.  The 61-year-old lifelong Hartford resident depends on an oxygen machine to assist with  his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition that can make it hard to breathe.

As a person suffering from several medical conditions while on a fixed income, Crawford also depended on the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) to help him keep his electric bills affordable.  The program helps an estimated 50,000 low-income households cover their utility bills–as long as the participants pay at least 6 percent of their gross income toward those bills.

However, PIPP participants received bad news this June.  To fill a $4 billion gap in the budget, the state of Illinois suspended PIPP indefinitely.

Crawford had been on the program for more than three years when he discovered that he would no longer receive the assistance.  He had been paying $49 per month on his bills.  After the suspension, his bills more than tripled to $170 per month.

“It kind of broke my heart,” he said.  “I’m coping with my bills, but it’s tough.”

PIPP is a successful program that encourages people to stay current with their bills, and be good utility customers. The program is a lifesaver for thousands of families struggling to keep up with their bills during harsh Illinois summers and winters.

CUB helped fight for the legislation that created PIPP back in 2009, because not only does it help Illinois families keep the lights on but it also helps to reduce overall costs. When people can’t cover their utility bills because of economic hardship, everyone ends up paying for it “uncollectable” charges on electric and gas bills. Keeping people up-to-date on their bills helps reduce costs for everyone.

In the absence of PIPP, those struggling to pay bills are encouraged to reach out to their utilities to see if they qualify for any special utility programs to help cover bills, special payment arrangements, or a “medical certificate,” which can help avoid shutoffs.  For more information, visit CUB’s fact sheet.  (Note: Federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding that Illinois receives is not impacted by this development. Qualifying households will be able to apply for those benefits during the fall enrollment period, which begins in October.)

“It’s real rough for us right now…” Crawford said.  “[PIPP] is a great program.  I wish it would come back.”