Energy Central Professional

 

ComEd offers grants to people, nonprofits struggling to pay bills


Susan DeGrane  

 

    When Gov. JB Pritzker issued Illinois' stay-at-home order in March, ComEd immediately began suspending service disconnections and began waiving late charges. For now, late charges are being waived through June 1.

    The company also made efforts to reconnect previously disconnected customers, according to Jane Park, ComEd's chief customer officer and senior vice president of customer operations.

    "We know people have a lot on their minds right now and the last thing they need is to worry about loved ones being without power," she said.

    These days, the electric utility company also is reminding customers of financial assistance options, called ComEd CARE programs.

    "We're getting the word out through social media, email, radio public service announcements, billing mailers and by reaching out to community groups, schools, and food pantries," Park said. "ComEd normally makes a push in the spring to make customers aware of financial assistance options, but in this COVID-19 world, we're trying to do more. All of these efforts are being magnified at this time."

    Helping to shine a spotlight on this effort is Juanita Hogue-Martin, who served as a maintenance mechanic in the Navy during the Persian Gulf War. She is one of 5,700 veterans and active military personnel enrolled in ComEd's CHAMP program which started in 2013.

    CHAMP provides $1,000 grants every two years, payable toward electric charges, to veterans, active military personnel, National Guard and Reserves members. The acronym stands for ComEd Helps Activated/Veteran Military Personnel.

    "This program helped us a lot," Hogue-Martin said. "It's really important to take advantage of things like this when you don't have the income you used to."

    Helping fellow veterans comes naturally to the 52-year-old Glenwood resident. She belongs to The American Legion, which lobbies and advocates for programs supporting veterans and their families.

    On the U.S.S. Holland, Hogue-Martin worked as a maintenance mechanic in an engine room six decks below the main deck. "My body, back and legs constantly ached going up and down those stairs," she said.

    Years later, while working as a civilian, she developed back and knee problems which required several surgeries. Her condition forced her to quit her job with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and apply for disability benefits. Anticipating a loss of income, she applied for CHAMP.

    Applying online was easy, according to Hogue-Martin. "I just filled out a form and uploaded my discharge papers," she said. Within three business days, she received the grant which eliminated an existing balance on her ComEd bill and provided credit for additional electrical service.

    ComEd also offers $500 biennial grants to eligible nonmilitary residential customers with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

    Since ComEd started the Non-Profit Special Hardship program in 2012, about 1,000 not-for-profit groups have received $2,000 biennial grants.

    "This really makes a big difference," said Carol Reed, founder of Special Friend Training, an organization that trains low-income residents from Chicago's South Side and neighboring suburbs as phlebotomists and dialysis technicians. The organization also offers CPR classes.

    A reduction in enrollment prompted Reed to apply for the grant. "Plus, we shared space with another tenant who moved out, which caused additional hardship," she said.

    Applying for the grant required proof of not-for-profit status, verification of tax-exempt status and substantiation of hardship. After completing the online application process, the grant was applied to her account within seven business days, Reed said.

    The ComEd CARE program grants do not have to be paid back, but ComEd advises individuals and organizations applying for them to consult tax advisors regarding any income tax obligations.

    For anyone struggling to pay electric bills, Park said it's best to take a proactive approach and contact ComEd. Information: www.comed.com or 800-334-7661.

    Susan DeGrane is a freelancer.

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