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January 4, 2001

Governor Announces Support for Programs That Help Consumers Pay Overdue Heating Bills

SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today announced grants totaling $3.2 million to expand programs that give participants the opportunity to repay delinquent utility bills.

Under a program called A Hand Up, participants repay their overdue bills by working for a community service organization or attending G.E.D. classes. Under the CLEAR (ComED LIHEAP Energy Arrearage Reduction) plan, qualified participants can have past due amounts eliminated by paying a third of the amount owed.

"Throughout the past several months, my administration has been working with the Federal government to secure more heating assistance for Illinois families. Now we are working with utilities across the state to help low income residents meet rising heating costs, while providing them with an incentive to help themselves and others," Ryan said.

A $2.2 million grant, provided through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs' (DCCA) Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), will go directly to A Hand Up, a not-for-profit organization created in 1997 by Illinois Power company.

Another $1 million grant, also provided through LIHEAP, will be used as the State match for the CLEAR plan, in which ComEd, the State and low income customers of the utility will each pay equal amounts on past due bills to bring them to a zero balance. A Hand Up has developed partnerships with Central Illinois Light Company (CILCO), Springfield's City Water, Light and Power (CWLP), Peoples Energy, and the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency. The grant will be administered through the A Hand Up foundation.

"It is gratifying to see the scope of this program grow," said DCCA Director Pam McDonough. "When government and the private sector work together, we often find unique and cost-effective solutions to our most difficult problems."

The program allows utility customers with unpaid bills to work at not-for-profit organizations, such as thrift shops and senior centers. For each hour worked, $10 is applied toward utility bills, up to $750. The program also allows participants without a high school diploma the option of attending G.E.D. classes. The pledge for each hour worked or attending class goes directly to the utility company as a credit toward the unpaid bills of LIHEAP eligible recipients.

"We have seen A Hand Up change lives," said Sharon Durbin, an Illinois Power loan executive and program administrator. "For low-income residents who had given up hope of improving their lives, A Hand Up restores their dignity and purpose."

Durbin says in one case, a disabled individual who never left her home began to volunteer at a thrift shop to repay a delinquent utility bill. With time, her personality and demeanor blossomed, and she is now a full-time volunteer.

"It's those kind of things we are after," Durbin said. "When it happens, it's awesome."

Last year, A Hand Up helped more than 2,000 people. This year's program is expected to serve over 4,000 residents. The program's long-term goal is to eventually obtain future funding from corporations and private foundations. For more information on the program, customers should call 1-866-A HAND UP (866-242-6387).

In partnership with the State, ComEd will offer its low-income customers in Cook County an opportunity to pay off past due bills prior to next summer. It is expected that over 7,000 households will be able to participate in the plan.

"We realize that utility bills can accumulate and create a hardship for low-income customers, particularly during this extreme winter season," said Pamela Strobel, Vice Chair of ComEd and Executive Vice President of Exelon Corporation, ComEd's parent company. "This partnership with the State of Illinois allows us to assist our customers by helping to relieve some of the financial burden."

Customers interested in obtaining more information on how to apply for the CLEAR plan, should call 1-800-EDISON-1.


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