Action earlier this month by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) has resulted in a revamped low- income gas assistance program offered through the state’s largest gas utility.
Starting December 1, Northern Indiana Public Service Co. (NIPSCO) will provide bill reductions ranging from 11 to 26 percent through its CARE Discount Program. Customers who qualify for Indiana’s LIHEAP will qualify for CARE, with income eligibility for both programs at 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines (FPG), or $16,245 for a one-person household, and $33,075 for a four- person household.
Low-income customers may apply at the community action agencies that administer the state’s LIHEAP. The size of the discount will depend on a point system that Indiana’s LIHEAP uses to determine benefits. Points, each worth a certain dollar amount, are awarded to applicants based on income level, type of income, type of house, presence of elderly, disabled or young children in the household, etc.
CARE is similar to the so-called universal service programs that Vectren and Citizens Gas, the two other major Indiana gas utilities, have offered for several years. Since 2004 NIPSCO has offered a program called Winter Warmth, which will be replaced by CARE. Under Winter Warmth customers could receive up to $450 annually in bill payment assistance.
During FY 2009, NIPSCO reported spending just over $6 million on Winter Warmth, providing assistance to about 16,400 families. The other two utilities provided about $7.8 million to over 57,000 households through their universal service gas assistance programs.
Separate from CARE, NIPSCO will continue to offer aid to those with incomes between 150 percent and 200 percent of FPG who have special hardships such as unemployment or a medical emergency. These households will receive a one-time credit that varies on a case-by-base basis. Customers must apply through their local LIHEAP agency. As of October 1, NIPSCO began limiting deposits to no more than $50 for energy assistance clients. Deposits are asked of customers with poor payment histories.
Approval for the new program came as part of NIPSCO's most recent gas rate settlement case.