COFI

POWER-PAC IL Wins Massive Utility Relief Package

This summer, after years of organizing and advocacy, POWER-PAC IL parents won a historic agreement to make utilities more affordable in Illinois, one of the most comprehensive utility-focused relief plans in the country.

The Town Hall

On August 7th, POWER-PAC IL hosted a virtual utilities town hall to spread the word to Illinois families about the agreement and the new programs and resources it provides. Over 50 attended and learned about the victory and about LIHEAP and Chicago’s Utility Billing Relief Program. Thank you to our partners, Karen Lusson at NCLC, Aimee Gendusa-English at CUB, and Peter Gribble at the City of Chicago Department of Finance for presenting.

The Win

The plan, which was negotiated by COFI and our partners, including the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), which represented COFI/POWER-PAC IL, the Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office, Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot’s office, Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and others was approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) on June 11, 2020. Key protections included in this ICC victory include:

  • Reconnection of previously disconnected families for nonpayment with no reconnection fees;
  • An expanded definition of low-income that will reduce barriers for families experiencing financial hardship to access these resources;
  • Longer Deferred Payment Agreements with no or low down payment required; and
  • New debt forgiveness and financial assistance opportunities offered by individual utility companies.

See CUB’s fact sheet for more details.

“Parents were already drowning as a result of the high costs of utilities. COVID-19 has added a heavier weight. It is imperative that utilities throw financially challenged communities a lifeline to ease the burden of utilities we need for basic survival,” said Rosazlia Grillier, Co-Chair of POWER-PAC IL’s Stepping Out of Poverty campaign.

Background

In January of 2018, POWER-PAC IL published the “Stopping the Debt Spiral” report in conjunction with their Saliendo de la pobreza campaign, bringing awareness to the devastating effects of debt on struggling families. During conversations with hundreds of parents, utilities kept coming up as one of their most frequent forms of debt, trapping them in a cycle of poverty. As they talked, it became clear that this wasn’t an issue of unwillingness to pay; they simply couldn’t afford the bills and resulting fines, fees, and interest payments that build upon each other, making getting out of debt a herculean task.

POWER-PAC IL member voted to prioritize addressing utility debt as it impacts so many families with the devastating consequences of heat and electric shutoffs. COFI/POWER-PAC IL connected with advocacy partners to focus on utility affordability and worked to stop predatory alternative energy companies.

Going Forward

Parents are taking advantage of the new rules and programs, applying for and receiving assistance, and will continue to push for measures that will make utilities affordable for families. POWER-PAC IL leaders want to make sure that parent voice is heard in determining what affordability looks like, now and in the future. They are also advocating for state level reforms to hold utility companies accountable, expand affordability and support clean energy, such as reforms in the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Read media coverage on our utilities work here:
The Chicago Reporter: Alternative energy scams hit poor blacks and Latinos the hardest, complaints show
Energy News: What states can learn from Illinois’ new COVID-19 utility relief agreement
Lincoln Courier: Consumer protections to expand after utility shutoff moratorium ends
Circle of Blue Investigates: More than 1.5 Million Residential Customers Owe $1.1 Billion to their Water Departments

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