Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As Chicagoans endure the most severe artic temperatures in years, thousands of residents are going without heat because they are unable to pay their utility bills. Tomorrow I will introduce in the Chicago City Council a measure that will provide utility bill relief to thousands of low-income Chicagoans.
Under my proposal, ten percent of the revenues from the City’s natural gas utility tax and electric use tax would be placed in a fund to help low-income Chicago residents pay their utility bills.
Too many Chicagoans are faced with the unconscionable choice of feeding their families or keeping the heat and lights on. The recent subzero temperatures mean that heating costs will skyrocket for all Chicagoans, leaving our most vulnerable residents susceptible to utility shut-offs.
Low-income households currently receive assistance in paying their utility bills from the federally funded Low Income Heat and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Because of limited funding, only 20 percent of eligible Chicago households received any assistance, and even when assistance was available, the average LIHEAP grant covered less than 30 percent of the average residential heating bill.
My proposal would supplement LIHEAP with funds from the City’s utility taxes. Those funds would then be used to help Chicagoans avoid gas and electricity shut-offs. Chicago’s 2007 budget projects over $207 million in revenue from the utility taxes, which means that my proposal could result in over $20 million in additional energy assistance to low income households.
The city’s utility taxes are calculated as a percentage of customers’ bills. More extreme weather means higher natural gas and electricity bills, and consequently more utility tax revenue for the City.
If the City is going to derive more revenue from increased utility bills, shouldn’t that windfall be used to help those residents most harmed by the higher rates?
Over 19,000 Chicago households began the current heating season without natural gas service. Lives are lost every year because families who are disconnected from utility service try desperate means to keep the heat and lights on. We need to do everything we can to prevent this human suffering.
The full text of the measure will be posted to the ‘Legislation’ page of my website tomorrow.
Very truly yours,