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Utility company aims to amend measure that prohibits disconnects for non payment

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(The Center Square) – An Illinois utility company has changed their position to neutral on a proposed measure to limit utility cutoffs for nonpayment after working with legislators and obtaining some floor amendments.

House Bill 4118 says no electric or gas utility shall disconnect service for nonpayment of a bill.

Ameren Illinois worked with state Rep. Maurice West, R-Rockford, on floor amendments and as a result Ameren is now neutral on the bill.

Ameren spokesperson Tucker Kennedy said the company is supportive of policies that enable eligible customers to obtain financial assistance to pay their energy bills. The bill says to qualify for disconnection protection, a customer must provide proof that he or she is applying for financial assistance.

“We have community action agency partners who do a fantastic job advising eligible households to complete the application process to get funding,” Kennedy told The Center Square. “They give higher priority to those customers who may be facing disconnection. While we always want to encourage people to apply for available assistance, we want to make sure there’s provisions in place that prevent reapplying for assistance over and over unsuccessfully.”

Kennedy said the concern Ameren had with the original language in the bill was that the utility felt it opened the door for potential abuse of the system. Ameren wanted to make sure there were provisions in place that prevented customers from reapplying for assistance over and over.

“Likely [they apply over and over] because they’ll never qualify, only to try and skirt around the obligation to make sure their bill is up to date,” said Kennedy.

The bill now says after customers turn in documentation proving he or she is applying for financial assistance, the electric or gas company has to provide a 75-day grace period where they don’t disconnect the power.

“Disconnection for a non-payment is always a last resort. By working with all parties, we think we can help avoid this step,” said Kennedy.

The bill also says during the 75-day grace period, the electric or gas public utility shall waive any late fees. Kennedy said Ameren’s latest amendment alleviates the concern that customers will abuse the system and keep applying for financial assistance to avoid disconnection.

“It puts parameters in place on how often a customer can apply for the same resource while also being protected from disconnection during that application process,” said Kennedy.

The legislation heads to the House floor.