CHICAGO — Even though Eugene Kimmons is co-owner of E & E Smackers, a fast-food restaurant on the Far South Side, the former Navy man said he still struggles to pay his electric bill.
But there is a program that can help the Grand Crossing resident and other veterans.
That ComEd Helps Activated/Veteran Military Personnel (CHAMP) program is for activated and deployed members of the Armed Forces, National Guard, Reserves and disabled veterans who have fallen behind on their ComEd bill.
"Electricity can be costly, especially if you use space heaters," said Kimmons, a 53-year-old husband and father. "I did not know there was an energy program available for veterans needing help paying their electric bill."
To apply, veterans can call 800-334-7661 or download an application online.
Krissy Posey, a spokeswoman for ComEd, said the program was launched in 2002. Since its inception, it has helped hundreds of veterans, including 100 in 2012.
"We realize some customers fall on hard times and need assistance with paying their monthly electric bill, and some of these customers happen to be veterans and members of the armed services," she said. "This is why we have dedicated $50 million in financial assistance over a five-year period, starting in 2012, to assist eligible low-income residents including seniors, veterans, and activated members of the armed services who are ComEd customers."
Kimmons said that is good news.
"Now that I know where to go for help with my light bill I plan to do so," he said. "I wish I had known about this program last year."
The program provides several options including bill payment assistance up to $1,000, deferred payment plans, extended due dates, cancelation of late charges, a deposit reduction or refund, and a budget payment plan.
This year the energy provider plans to spend $10 million not only to fund the program but other financial assistance programs as well.
"While CHAMP funds are available to veterans and deployed active military personnel who qualify, these customers may also be eligible for funds distributed through additional financial assistance programs ComEd offers," Posey said.
Veterans with their ComEd bill in their spouse's name are still eligible.
"The bill can be in either name. However, proper documentation is needed from the military person to confirm eligibility," Posey said.
With temperatures dipping below 35 degrees this week, veterans whose heat is electric may not have to worry about having their service disconnected, regardless if they enroll in the program. A law prohibits utilities, such as ComEd and Peoples Gas, from turning off sources of heat from Dec. 1 to March 31.