About 40,000 Low-Income Hoosier Families Will Receive Gas Bill Discounts
NDIANAPOLIS - About 40,000 low-income families in Indiana will receive significant reductions in their gas bills this winter thanks to the extension of a Universal Service Program created by Citizens Gas and Vectren Energy Delivery of Indiana (Vectren).
This week the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) extended the program through May 2009 to help low-income natural gas customers by providing reduced bills and crisis assistance to working poor families. The USP will provide an annual total of about $2.5 million in assistance to Citizens Gas customers and about $5 million in assistance to Vectren customers.
Beginning December 1, 2007, eligible customers who have applied for the state’s Energy Assistance Program (EAP) through local Community Action Agencies will automatically be enrolled in the new USP and will receive bill reductions in addition to EAP assistance. For Citizens’ customers, monthly bill reductions will range from 10 percent to 25 percent of the total bill (not including EAP benefits). For qualifying Vectren customers, monthly bill reductions will range from 15 to 32 percent of the total bill (not including EAP benefits). With EAP benefits included, a family of four with an annual income of $23,000 would see a total monthly bill reduction of approximately 50 percent.
The USP also will provide additional funding to both utilities’ customers in the form of crisis assistance programs which target qualified low-income and working-poor households who need additional help to get reconnected and or maintain heat throughout the upcoming winter. The programs will provide assistance to households up to 200% of poverty who might not otherwise be available for traditional assistance.
“As a not-for-profit Public Charitable Trust, Citizens Gas is always focused on helping customers manage their energy bills. Our Universal Service Program is one of the many community investments the utility makes each year to improve the quality of life in our community,” said Carey Lykins, President and CEO of Citizens Gas.
“For Vectren, the Universal Service Program is part of a package of efforts designed to help those customers in need of assistance. All parties involved in the development of this program realized that state and federal energy assistance funds are often depleted in early winter and aren’t sufficient to meet the growing needs of all low-income Hoosiers,” said Vectren Vice President of Marketing and Customer Service Doug Karl. “The bill discount component of the USP will provide those low-income customers an opportunity to make affordable payments toward maintaining their natural gas service. We will also encourage these customers to utilize parts of our Conservation Connection program to enable them to use less natural gas in the long run.”
The USP is the result of a collaborative effort by Citizens Gas, Vectren, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, Citizens Action Coalition and a group representing industrial customers.
“Continuing this program is one way to help more customers stay connected to the natural gas delivery system after the winter heating season ends,” added Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor Susan L. Macey. “If a utility disconnects fewer customers over the long term, then all customers benefit because there are more people to share in paying the fixed costs of the delivery system.”
Funding for the Citizens Gas USP will be provided through a combination of an annual contribution of $775,000 by the utility and through a small per unit charge to all customers, which is expected to average about $4 per year.
Vectren is contributing more than $1.4 million annually to assist in funding the USP. The remainder of the needed funding will be provided through a small monthly per-unit charge to all Indiana customers. The average customer is expected to pay less than $5 annually.
For a consumer to qualify for USP assistance, the following criteria would have to be met:
1. The customer must enroll in and qualify for assistance from EAP. To apply for the EAP, customers should call 1-800-872-0371.
2. The customer’s gross household income must be at or below levels established for EAP assistance.
3. The customer’s account must be designated for residential gas heating.
4. The customer must reside at the service address.
5. There must be only one account in the customer’s name.
Approximately 17,000 Citizens customers and about 23,000 Vectren customers are expected to participate in the program.
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