BGE prepares program to cut bills of 350 poor city customers

March 07, 1996|By KEVIN L. MCQUAID | KEVIN L. MCQUAID,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. plans next month to begin a pilot program aimed at assisting low-income Baltimore City residents with utility bills, a measure a state office representing the public interest claims will help people who are struggling financially.

BGE's cooperation in the voluntary plan is unusual because in most other states such programs have been enacted only through legislation or because of a mandate from regulatory agencies.

Under the two-year pilot program, approved yesterday by the state's Public Service Commission, 350 low-income city residents will pay a fraction of their utility bills based on their total projected incomes and energy use.

"The number of people who can't afford to pay their utility bills is staggering," said Cynthia J. Riely, a consumer liaison with the Office of the People's Counsel, the customers' advocacy agency, which helped draft the agreement with the utility.

"This will go a long way toward enabling the area's low-income population and help ease a significant burden in their lives," Ms. Riely said.

The balance of the bill will be paid with existing federal tax credits, charitable donations and contributions from the Fuel Fund of Central Maryland Inc., to which BGE contributes $1 million annually. In some cases, the new program will decrease utility bills by as much as 75 percent.

More than 200,000 Central Maryland residents could ultimately qualify for the program because their annual incomes are 150 percent of the federal government's poverty guidelines, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures.

For BGE, the new program is expected to decrease the amount it spends on collection efforts. Although low-income residents account for just 5 percent of BGE's customers, they represent 40 percent -- or $16 million -- of the company's average monthly delinquent account balance.

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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