By RAYMON TRONCOSO
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Several state-regulated utilities have voluntarily extended a moratorium on disconnections into next year after requests from the Illinois Commerce Commission.
The ICC announced that Nicor Gas and Liberty Utilities have agreed to halt shutoffs due to missed or late payments for all residential customers until March 31, 2021.
Ameren Illinois, Aqua Illinois, Illinois American Water, Commonwealth Edison, Peoples Gas/North Shore Gas and Utility Services of Illinois have agreed to delay disconnections to the same date for residential customers who qualify for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, and those financially impacted by COVID-19.
MidAmerican has extended its moratorium on shutoffs for LIHEAP-qualified residential customers until March 31, 2021 as well, and is considering other options, according to ICC.
To qualify for LIHEAP, residential customers’ combined household income for the 30 days prior to submitting an application must be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level for their family size. A spokesperson for the ICC said it is strongly encouraging all residential customers of the participating utilities to call their utility to check their eligibility. The LIHEAP application period runs from July of this year to June 30, 2021, or until funding set aside for the program is exhausted.
According to an ICC press release, residential customers who have been impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic and cannot pay their utility bill do not need to fill out any forms or provide paperwork to qualify for the moratorium. They just need to “make the phone call and verbalize” their situation to receive a delay on shutoffs if their state-regulated utility is participating in COVID-19 related moratoriums.
“This action will ensure a continuation of utility service. Deferred payment arrangements are also available for both residential and small business customers needing help managing their utility bill obligation during these difficult times,” according to the release.
On June 18, the ICC approved a COVID-19 utility agreement with state-regulated utilities that included the first moratorium on shutoffs that some utilities have since voluntarily extended. The agreement also included consumer protections aimed at protecting utility customers during the coronavirus pandemic, such as deferred payment agreements, temporary waivers for reconnection fees and new deposit requirements.
“Illinois citizens are facing extraordinary challenges due to the pandemic. Low income families and those impacted by COVID-19 should not have to fear losing basic services like electricity, heat, or fresh water,” Carrie Zalewski, ICC Chairman, said in a news release. “The voluntary actions by these utilities will provide our most vulnerable citizens with some peace of mind, especially as cold weather approaches.”
(Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.)