New bill will cap utility payments for poor

Gas customers in Illinois will get help buying energy efficient appliances under a new bill signed by Gov. Pat Quinn. 

The bill will also help low-income consumers by capping their utility bills at six percent of their income, and help gas companies reduce the amount of energy they use. It was signed Friday by the governor.

“People will not have to make a choice between purchasing their medication versus paying their utility bill,” says Laurice Brown, energy director for the Chicago Labor Coalition for People’s Action and Public Utilities.

The coalition advocates on the behalf of low-income households in the Chicago area. Many are struggling because of the recession.

“If the parents didn’t have a job, at least a kid had a summer job that could take them through the summer months. But now the kids didn’t even get jobs,” says Brown.

In addition to the 6 percent cap, gas companies will offer so-called “on-bill financing” which will allow consumers to finance energy efficient appliances, and have monthly payments added to their gas bill.

Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, says that program represents a big change. 

“This is basically asking a company to help customers use less of their product,” says Darin.

Rod Sierra, spokesman for People’s Gas, says the bill fits with previous efforts to conserve energy.

“We’re big supporters of energy efficiency and for several years now we’ve had several programs in place for consumers to use less energy,” he says.

These programs are designed to ensure Illinois gas utilities reduce gas use by seven percent by 2020.