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July 2, 2001

Public/Private Partnership Helps Peoples Energy Customers Pay Delinquent Heating Bills

SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today said the state will provide Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) grants totaling $4 million to assist low-income Peoples Energy 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, Peoples Energy and the City of Chicago will each 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. A second program -- the Volunteer Service and Skill Builders Program -- will give eligible Peoples Energy customers a chance to earn credits toward paying off their delinquent accounts by providing volunteer service and/or participating in training and education programs.

"For many low-income Illinoisans, last winter's high heating bills continue to cause hardship," the Governor 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 the City of Chicago and Peoples Energy provides both help and hope to people faced with seemingly insurmountable bills."

"This program is the result of a cooperative effort between the company, the State and the City 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. "It is important that customers begin eliminating debt 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 a $3 million grant through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help fund the CARE program. These funds will be matched by a $2 million contribution from the City of Chicago and $2 million from Peoples Energy.

To participate in the CARE program, Peoples 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 Peoples, the City 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.

Customers also may elect to bring their accounts current by participating in the Volunteer Service and Skill Builders Program. Under this program, LIHEAP recipients may choose to volunteer their services at participating not-for-profit agencies and/or participate in a skills development or General Equivalency Diploma (GED) training program, earning credits at a rate equivalent to $10 per hour, and may earn up to $750 to assist in paying their delinquent bills. DCCA Director Pam McDonough said the agency will provide $1 million in LIHEAP funds to support the Program.

"This program, in particular, offers a tremendous opportunity to help low-income people emerge from debt while restoring their hope and dignity," McDonough said. "Whether working or learning new skills, they help both themselves and others, regaining a sense of purpose and self-worth that can help them begin to climb out of poverty."

Customers may mix and match the CARE and Volunteer Service and Skill Builders components. Customers interested in obtaining information about eligibility for the programs may contact Peoples Energy at 1-866-556-6001.

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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