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Act creates bill payment assistance program for low-income utilities customers. PA 096-0033.

(Effective 7/10/09)

Illinois lawmakers have amended the Energy Assistance Act to add a new section creating the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP), intended to help low-income residential customers pay their utility bills. 305 ILCS 20/18. The PIPP is intended to bring the gas and electric bills of participants "into the range of affordability," give incentives to participants to pay their bills in a timely fashion, encourage energy efficiency measures, and identify customers whose homes are most in need of weatherization. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services (department) will work with local administrative agencies (LAAs) to determine eligibility for the program. Eligible participants must have income levels no greater than 150% of the poverty level, and the department may, to preserve the financial integrity of the program, limit eligibility to households with incomes below 125% of the poverty line. Monthly credits under the program will be set by the department as a percentage of household income, with monthly credits not to exceed $150 per month or $1,800 annually. The department may deny credits to otherwise qualified individuals if the cost of administering the credit exceeds the actual value of the credit to the participant.

The Act requires that each plan participant shall enter into a levelized payment plan with the gas and electric service provider, and the utility provider will review and adjust the participant's usage and payments regularly, but not more often than quarterly. Plan participants are responsible for paying all utility charges in excess of the monthly credit. The department is responsible for remitting to the utility company, through the relevant LAAs, the portion of the utility bill that is not the responsibility of the participant by the due date specified on the participant's bill.

The Act also creates an Arrearage Reduction Program (ARP) that allows plan participants to reduce the amount the participant owed for gas and electric service at the time the participant is found to be eligible for PIPP. For each month that a plan participant pays his or her utility bill on time, the utility will apply a credit to the participant's pre-program arrears equivalent to 1/12 of the total amount owing, provided that the total credit not exceed $1,000 each for gas and electric service annually. Those participating in the ARP program will not be responsible for any additional late fees on pre-program arrears covered by the program. Otherwise, "the utility shall bill and collect the monthly bill of a plan participant pursuant to the same rules, regulations, programs and policies as applicable to residential customers generally."

If the department receives notification from the utility that the participant's monthly utility payment is more than 45 days past due, the department may terminate a participant's eligibility for PIPP. The department may also, in consultation with the Policy Advisory Council, adjust the number of PIPP participants to match the amount of funds available for the program.

The Act charges the department with fully implementing the PIPP as soon as it is possible to effectively administer the program. Within 90 days of the effective date of the Act, the department shall, in consultation with utility providers, LAAs, and the Illinois Commerce Commission, as well as participating alternative energy suppliers, issue "a detailed implementation plan which shall include detailed testing protocols and analysis of the capacity for implementation by the LAAs and utilities." This analysis must include a consideration of how to implement the PIPP in the most "cost-effective and timely manner[.]" The department shall issue a report of the feasibility of full or gradual implementation, and the PIPP must be fully implemented by September 1, 2011. The department must also develop and implement an educational program about PIPP to alert customers to their rights and responsibilities under the plan, and the department must also ensure that LAAs are adequately funded to take on these educational tasks. The department must also establish a procedure for LAAs to use to contact customers who may lose their eligibility due to late payments. The Act provides that the PIPP shall not be administered so that credits under the plan will be counted as income or a resource for other "means-tested assistance programs for low-income households or otherwise result in the loss of federal or State assistance dollars for low income households."
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Title Annotation:legistation
Author:Dixon, Katy
Publication:Illinois Bar Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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