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July 2, 2001

State Supports Program to Help Low-Income Consumer Pay Overdue Heating Bills

SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today announced that the state will provide a $460,000 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) grant to establish a new program providing low-income Nicor Gas customers with an opportunity to satisfy delinquent utility bills resulting from last winter's high energy charges.

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.

Through the new Hand-in-Hand Program, eligible Nicor Gas customers may earn credits toward paying off their delinquent accounts by providing volunteer service and/or participating in training and education programs.

"Last winter's high heating costs ran up bills beyond the financial means of many low-income people," Governor Ryan said. "We continue to seek additional federal dollars to help these Illinois families pay their delinquent heating bills, and we are also looking for alternative ways like the Hand-in-Hand Program to help them erase the debt." The Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA) will fund the Hand-in-Hand program through a $460,000 grant through its Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). To participate in Hand-in-Hand, eligible Nicor Gas customers who received a LIHEAP benefit last winter must pay any balance over $750 owed at the time of their acceptance, plus the amount of their current energy bill. Upon acceptance, they may choose to volunteer their services at a not-for-profit agency and/or participate in a skills development or General Equivalency Diploma (GED) training program, earning credits at a rate equivalent to $10 per hour. The maximum credit they may earn is $750.

"We are pleased to hear this program has been granted approval," said Tom Fisher, chairman, president and CEO of Nicor Gas. "This program is yet another example of state government and utilities working together to provide additional opportunities to customers in need."

DCCA Director Pam McDonough said the program offers participants a hand, not a handout. "Rather than just forgiving the debt, we are offering low-income people a chance to pay their bills while helping themselves by attaining new skills, or helping others."

Enrollment details were mailed to eligible customers on June 29.

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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