Gas shutoff moratorium and open enrollment for bill assistance programs have begun
Illinois PIRG Education Fund today released a fact sheet to help Chicago gas consumers understand what the winter moratorium on gas shut-offs and the start of open enrollment for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program mean to them. Both of those initiatives started on Dec. 1.
The Peoples Gas pipe replacement program third quarter report, released in mid-November, showed that as of September, Chicagoans were already $40.1 million behind on this year’s gas bills, up from $25.7 million at the same time last year. Last year, the company had the right to shut off gas to 92,000, or 15%, of its Chicago customers.
“It’s important to us that gas customers understand their rights and options, especially as we’ve watched bills get driven further and further up by the company’s misdirected pipe replacement program,” said Eva Haraldsdottir, Illinois PIRG Education Fund organizer. “We hope our fact sheet helps Peoples Gas customers concerned about keeping the heat on this winter.”
December 1 marks the start of the annual Peoples Gas four-month voluntary shut off moratorium. According to company policy, as submitted to the state’s utility regulator, Peoples Gas will not disconnect residential heating customers between December 1 and March 31. State law makes it illegal for utilities to shut off the energy supply when temperatures fall below 32°F.
For customers who are struggling to keep up with energy bills, December 1 is also the first day of LIHEAP open enrollment. LIHEAP provides qualifying households with a once-per-year payment towards heating bills, emergency reconnection assistance, and funds to improve home energy efficiency.
Beyond the threat of disconnection, Chicago gas customers face other day-to-day stresses and budget trade-offs in order to afford climbing gas bills. In a recent survey of lower income Chicago homeowners produced by Elevate Energy, 68% of survey respondents reported keeping their homes at extremely cold or uncomfortable temperatures, and 51% also reported cutting back on basic necessities including medicine, food, and transportation to afford their energy bills.
The troubled Peoples Gas pipe replacement program is one factor driving up heating bills. As of September, the average Chicago residential gas customer was paying nearly $10/month for this program through a bill surcharge.
The program has come under scrutiny and criticism for years, including a report released earlier this by Illinois PIRG Education Fund exposing rampant mismanagement and waste. The Chicago City Council is currently considering a resolution calling on state legislators to address concerns about the program’s affordability, management, and public safety outcomes.
Several community and senior organizations such as AARP Illinois, Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and Brighton Park Neighborhood Council support efforts to bring accountability to the pipe replacement program, citing its impacts on low- and fixed-income Chicagoans. “Parents will continue to fight to keep Chicago’s families out of the cold and dark.” said Rosazlia Grillier, POWER-PAC Illinois parent leader and Stepping Out of Poverty campaign co-chair.