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June 29, 1999


SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today announced the state is bolstering its efforts to help low-income residents pay their energy bills by providing funds to five unique pilot projects, including one that allows participants to eliminate debt by working for a community service organization or attending G.E.D classes.

"Each winter the state helps more than 240,000 residents pay their heating bills through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program," Ryan said. "This new effort gives low-income families an opportunity to better their lives while helping them make ends meet."

The largest grant, $1 million, is going to "A Hand Up," a downstate not-for-profit organization created by Illinois Power Company to provide customers with opportunities to improve their economic situations. The other grant recipients are C.E.F.S. Economic Opportunity Corp. of Effingham, AmerenUE and the McHenry County Housing Authority.

Illinois Power has several sites in Illinois where clients currently work to pay off their utility or other household bills by participating in the "A Hand Up" program. Current sites include the Water Street Mission in Decatur, the Unique Boutique in Collinsville and other non-profit organizations in Madison County.

Under the program, customers with unpaid bills can sign up to work at not-for-profit organizations, such as thrift shops. For each hour they work, $10 is applied toward their utility and other household bills, up to $600. Starting this year, the program also pays participants to attend G.E.D. classes.

"This is just another way to help people become more self-sufficient," said Sharon Durbin, an Illinois Power employee who started "A Hand Up" and now administers the program. "If we can knock down two obstacles -- getting out of debt and earning a high school diploma -- we can give people hope."

To date, "A Hand Up" has helped more than 800 people and has work donation sites in 12 counties. The $1 million LIHEAP grant will allow "A Hand Up" to expand to an additional 14 counties and add a number of GED and adult education programs. LIHEAP is administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs.

"These grants are part of a strategy to enlist the private sector in helping state government find solutions to the problems facing our neediest citizens," DCCA Director Pam McDonough said.

The other grants announced today include: AmerenUE of St. Louis, Mo., will receive a $257,833 grant to assist 100 LIHEAP eligible clients in Madison and St. Clair counties. The pilot project is intended to evaluate customers' acceptance of a pay-as-you-go payment option.

"This grant helps us continue our efforts to support those with special needs and to build strong communities by establishing a social safety network of care, counseling and assistance," said Thomas R. Voss, Senior Vice President of Customer Services at AmerenUE.

Under the program, participating households would use meters that operate through the use of magnetic-stripe cards, similar to pre-paid phone cards. By purchasing a designated amount of energy in advance, consumers would learn about budgeting and energy conservation. Participants would also receive a 25 percent arrearage reduction every six months during the duration of the pilot project. C.E.F.S Economic Opportunity Corporation of Effingham will receive a total of $390,000 for two pilot projects aimed at increasing energy conservation in rural areas.

The first pilot project encourages customers of unregulated delivered fuel to participate in a fixed fuel pricing and budget billing project. The LIHEAP clients who participate for one year would have 50 percent of any arrearage remaining on their accounts paid by the program. Consumer budget counseling and priority energy conservation are also part of the project.

The second pilot project focuses on helping repeat emergency service LIHEAP clients maintain an uninterrupted heat source throughout the year. Emphasis is placed on energy conservation, weatherization, and the negotiation of a budget payment plan that has the project paying 50 percent of the energy bill each month for the first year. The McHenry County Housing Authority in Woodstock will receive a $131,000 grant to provide 1,200 LIHEAP clients with energy kits that include a compact fluorescent light bulb, weather stripping and information on how to make their home more energy-efficient and safe. In addition, 250 clients will have their furnaces serviced to improve energy efficiency.


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