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July 2, 2001

Public/Private Partnership Helps North Shore Gas Customers Pay Delinquent Heating Bills

SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today announced a $200,000 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) grant to assist low-income North Shore Gas customers in paying delinquent utility bills resulting from last winter's high wholesale natural gas costs.

Total funding for last winter's LIHEAP program was $179 million, with over 320,000 Illinois households receiving benefits averaging $500 per household. Funds provided today are part of $7.1 million in LIHEAP Special Projects designed to combat the aftereffects of last winter's cold weather and high energy costs.

Under the new Customer Arrearage Reduction (CARE) program, the State of Illinois and North Shore Gas each will contribute funds to match payments from low-income people who bring their utility accounts up to date prior to the onset of the next heating season.

"Many low-income Illinoisans continue to face hardships brought about by last winter's high heating bills," Governor Ryan said. "We continue to seek additional federal dollars to help these Illinois families, and we are also working to find alternative ways to offer assistance. This partnership with North Shore Gas provides both help and hope to people faced with seemingly insurmountable bills."

"This program is the result of a cooperative effort between the company and the State to offer relief to those most affected by last winter's national spike in gas costs," said Richard Terry, chairman and CEO of Peoples Energy, the parent company of North Shore Gas. "It is important that customers begin reducing their arrearages now, in anticipation of the coming winter and this program provides major assistance for eligible customers. "

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA) will provide the $200,000 grant through LIHEAP. These funds will be matched by North Shore Gas.

To participate in the CARE program, North Shore customers who received a LIHEAP benefit last winter and have past due balances must make payments toward their past due amount. These payments will be matched on a 2 to 1 basis by North Shore and DCCA, up to a maximum of $600. For example, a customer with a $900 past due amount will be able to eliminate this debt by making $300 in payments. The program will run from July 2 until August 31 or until funds run out, whichever occurs first.

DCCA Director Pam McDonough said the program is a chance for people to get out from under staggering bills. "Last winter's high heating costs devastated many family budgets," McDonough said. "This program offers eligible families the opportunity to begin budgeting for next winter's costs without worrying about last year's unpaid balances. It's a way to emerge from debt and restore dignity."

Customers interested in obtaining information about eligibility for the programs may contact North Shore Gas at 1-866-556-6004.

LIHEAP is a State and Federally funded program that is designed to assist households with incomes below 150% of poverty pay their winter energy bills.


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