With uncertain times come uncertain finances. Due to the public health emergency, you may have been laid off, your hours may have been cut, or you may have accrued unexpected medical expenses. Whatever the reason, paying your utility bills shouldn’t cause additional financial stress. These programs may be able to help.
Be aware that some social service agencies that administer these payment assistance programs may require in-person applications. With non-essential offices closed due to Coronavirus, some agencies may not be accepting applications. Call your local agency for more details on the current application process. (Also, CUB summarizes the status of these offices in this post.)
NOTE: On March 18, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) directed all private utilities to suspend disconnections and late-payment charges until the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted. (Read CUB’s fact sheet about these directives.) Despite the moratorium, past-due bills will eventually have to be paid in full. CUB recommends that customers try to pay their bills in full and practice energy efficiency. If you can’t afford your bills, try to pay some amount each month and contact your utility to enroll in a payment arrangement.
For electric and gas customers:
LIHEAP helps eligible low-income households pay for basic utilities—heat, gas, and electric. You can call 1-877-411-9276 (WARM) for program information. Due to COVID-19 precautions, most local agencies that serve LIHEAP customers are closed to the public. However, some are taking applications over the phone. Contact your local community action agency for specific information. Not sure which agency serves LIHEAP in your area? Consult this map. As of March 20, LIHEAP funding is still available for Illinois residents. To check the status of a LIHEAP application submitted prior to the shelter-in-place protocols, visit this website.
UPDATE: On March 25, the U.S. Senate approved a $2 trillion stimulus package to battle the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes $900 million for LIHEAP to help families managing costs associated with home energy bills during this time.
If you live in ComEd’s territory and are facing financial hardship due to job loss, illness, military deployment, disability, or other circumstances, you may qualify for additional bill payment assistance funded by the utility.
Ameren’s program is designed to help low- to moderate-income customers with bill payment assistance. It helps senior citizens on a fixed income and families coping with disability, illness and job loss.
Share the Warmth provides heating grants to limited and fixed-income households. Eligible customers can receive grants of up to $200 on their bills. If North Shore customers are having difficulty paying their bill, they can also arrange a payment plan. North Shore is also waiving late payment fees. NOTE: They are currently taking applications over the phone. For more information, call 847-249-4330.
One-time annual grants are given, with no requirement to be paid back, to qualified residential customers who meet the required income guidelines. Eligible customers can receive up to $350 or $400 based on the overall account balance on the account. A $25 good faith payment is required. The Nicor Gas Sharing Program is administered by the Salvation Army. Due to COVID-19 precautions, many Salvation Army locations may be closed to the public. However, some may take applications over the phone. Visit this website to find your local Salvation Army. Contact them for program specifics.
For telecom customers:
Lifeline is a federal program that lowers the monthly cost of phone or internet. Eligible customers will get up to $9.25 toward their bill. You can use Lifeline for either phone or Internet service, but not both. NOTE: Lifeline is not available through AT&T in much of its service territory.
AT&T’s Access program offers high-speed Internet wherever the company provides Internet service in Illinois for $5 to $10 per month. The program also includes Wi-Fi service for a participant’s devices— such as a laptop or smartphone—inside the home, and gives participants access to Wi-Fi hotspots outside the home. In response to COVID-19, AT&T is offering two months of free service to new Access customers who sign up by April 30. It is also expanding eligibility requirements and waiving all Internet data overage fees. (Warning: The company is not taking new applications after April 30, so don’t wait to sign up.)
For $14.99 per month, Spectrum Internet Assist provides eligible applicants with high-speed Internet and a free internet modem.
The Internet Essentials program offered through Comcast provides low-income households with school-age children Internet service for $9.95 per month. Eligible households receive Internet service and in-home WiFi. To support school children engaged in distance learning, Comcast has increased service speed for all Internet Essentials families, and new Internet Essentials customers will receive two months of free service.