The pandemic has been so hard on Illinois utility customers that it’s gained national attention. An economist discovered that close to 1 percent of all residences in Illinois were cut off for nonpayment in October 2020, according to an in-depth report by the Washington Post.
Steve Cicala, an economist at Tufts University, said his findings suggest “our social safety net is in grave need of repair.”
One of the most depressing parts of Washington Post reporter Greg Jaffe’s profile of Shawna, a Peoria woman struggling with a $4,242 debt to her electric company, is that consumer advocates have worked hard to make financial help and other protections available, but there are still many families who go unnoticed by government aid programs and charitable groups. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Here’s a run-down of recent developments on keeping people connected, and tips for anybody struggling to pay their utility bills.
The moratorium on shut-offs has ended, as of April 1, but there are still consumer protections available. Read our fact sheet on the protections available to utility customers struggling to pay their bills (version in Spanish).
(Note: The disconnections this past fall happened in between shut-off moratoriums in Illinois.)
There’s more relief available. Gov. J.B. Pritzker in April signed an executive order that paved the way for a new Utility Disconnection Avoidance Program (UDAP), allocating an estimated $80 million to help households. The governor’s move will grant billing relief for nearly 80,000 current and former Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) customers currently at risk for disconnection. (Here’s a fact sheet on the program.)
Illinoisans eligible for UDAP may receive a one-time credit of at least $250 up to a maximum of $5,000 for each eligible utility account. Eligible families include those who are currently on a utility disconnection list based on arrearages, as well as those who have received state energy assistance through LIHEAP or the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) between October 1, 2018 and June 30, 2021.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is working with utility companies and local agencies to process invoices and credit customer accounts. The utility will contact people who are eligible and will include a note on their bills, so there shouldn’t be any action required of consumers, but if you’re struggling it’s a good idea to see if you qualify for this program. (Note: CUB has learned that ComEd, Ameren and Nicor have all pledged to not disconnect any customer eligible for the UDAP program, and Peoples Gas is working on doing the same.)
So if you’re having a hard time paying your bills, or you’ve been shut off, what can you do? Pick up your phone and make these calls:
1) Call Your Utility:
As the utility company is the entity issuing the bill and the only entity with access to your account, your first call—no matter the issue—should always be to your utility. This is especially true now when many utilities have consumer protections that are available to customers who reach out to them directly. Contact your utility, express financial hardship and ask what consumer protections they offer to prevent a shut-off. (Remember to read our fact sheet on protections available.)
If you’ve already been shut off, still contact your utilities and see what you can do to get your service back on. One of the reasons CUB stresses doing everything you can to keep your service on is because once you get shut off, the company has much more leverage to dictate what you have to do to get restored. Read CUB’s Gas and Electric Guide about your rights.
Here’s contact information for utilities:
- Ameren Illinois – 1-800-755-5000
- Aqua Illinois – 1-877-987-2782
- ComEd – 1-800-334-7661
- Illinois American Water – 1-800-422-2782
- Nicor Gas – 1-888-642-6748
- North Shore Gas – 1-866-556-6004
- Peoples Gas – 1-866-556-6001
- Utilities Inc. – 1-800-831-2359
2) Call LIHEAP
If you are in need of financial assistance to help pay your gas and electric bills, start with The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), 1-877-411-9276. Administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, LIHEAP is designed to help eligible low-income households pay for winter energy service. Read CUB’s fact sheet on the program, and check out our newly updated infographic on energy assistance (in Spanish).
3) Call CUB.
If you don’t feel you have been given complete information by your utility, contact the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), at 1-800-669-5556, or through its online complaint form.
Also, check out these CUB resources:
CUB Help Center: Responding to COVID-19