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Advocates Plead for Utility Relief

Increases in utility bills hit many of Indiana's older folks hard because they're on a fixed income. (Virginia Carter)
Increases in utility bills hit many of Indiana's older folks hard because they're on a fixed income. (Virginia Carter)
November 13, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS – Advocacy groups in Indiana are asking state regulators to reject a rate-hike request by Indiana Michigan Power, and they want a low-income assistance program set up to help Hoosiers who are struggling to make ends meet.

I&M has requested an increase in the monthly fixed charge from $7.30 to $18.

Beverly Torres is a case manager with Stone Soup Community in South Bend, which helps people who need help paying rent, utility bills or buy needed medications.

She says most of these people work, many of them have multiple jobs, and just can't make ends meet. She says many of them make minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour in Indiana.

"There are people that are working, and maybe that's the only kind of pay they can receive because of their education or whatever, there's different reasons, and certainly, someone has to do those jobs," she explains.

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission will hold hearings on the rate hike in January. The Commission has 300 days from the date I&M filed the petition to issue an order. If the Commission doesn’t, Indiana law states the I&M can automatically raise its rates up to 50 percent of what it requested.

In response to a media inquiry, I&M says it's committed to its Building the Future plan, which aims to strengthen infrastructure, reduce outages and allow for diversifying the sources of energy generation.

John Howat, senior policy analyst with the National Consumer Law Center, echoes the call for an electricity affordability program and says the plan to increase the fixed charge is unfair to those who use the least amount of power.

"Lower-income consumers already tend to use less than their higher-income counterparts, so in a way this is just shifting costs onto those who can least afford it while taking away control over the bill," he points out.

The Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Sierra Club, Indiana Coalition for Human Services, the Indiana Institute for Working Families and Indiana Community Action Association have all testified before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, which will decide whether the rate hike will be approved.


Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN