Coronavirus Illinois: Late fees suspended, financial help available during COVID-19 crisis

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Financial help is available in Illinois and Chicago for the many people who are taking a big financial hit during the pandemic.

RELATED: Canceled late fees, free services available amid COVID-19 crisis

Illinois has launched a new website for COVID-19 resources, including unemployment eligibility for those impacted, at coronavirus.illinois.gov.

Gov. JB Pritzker has called for a moratorium on shutoffs for all utility companies, including energy, telecom and water. On Wednesday, the Illinois Commerce Commission voted unanimously to formalize Governor Pritzker and the ICC's request of Illinois electric, natural gas, water and wastewater utilities to cease disconnections and the threat of disconnections during the coronavirus public health emergency.

The order also calls on the utilities to suspend late payment fees until May 1, or the crisis has passed, and to implement flexible utility credit and collection procedures to ensure customers remain connected to essential utility services when the emergency status ends.

Earlier, ComEd announced it is taking action to help its customers with payment assistance programs and by imposing a moratorium on service disconnections and waiving new late payment charges through at least May 1.

RELATED: Chicago suspends debt collection to provide financial relief during COVID-19 outbreak

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that debt collection in the city will be suspended until April 30 for a variety of fines, and utility bill payments will also be delayed. Also during this time, Chicago will suspend all booting and towing, and only issue parking tickets for public safety reasons.

And if your Illinois driver's license expires in March, you will be given a one-month extension. Thirty-day extensions will also be given for vehicle registrations and ID cards.

Brian Phelan, a professor of economics at DePaul University, spoke about rising concerns about the economy in the midst of a global health pandemic.

"This is a public health crisis that is causing a recession, and potentially, a very large recession," Phelan said.

RELATED: Treasury proposes delivering $500B to Americans starting April

Federally, there is a proposal to send a direct payment to Americans to stimulate the economy. Trump administration officials saying it could be $1,000 or more.

"We are looking at different numbers, we are looking at timing that would be different. Splitting the time, splitting the payments. We are looking at a lot of different things," President Trump said.

"The fiscal stimulus is a band-aid to holdover until the health crisis can be solved," Phelan said.

Phillip Braun, a clinical professor of finance at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, said that a single payment won't be enough.

"It really should be targeted across time for those who truly need it," Braun said. "It shouldn't be just a one-time payment because this is going to go on for awhile."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is suspending all foreclosures and evictions until the end of next month to help struggling families.
Braun said some cannot afford to pay their bills.

"There are those who will panic because they will have a real situation," Braun said. "There are those who are going to panic because they are worried about their 401k and they're very different."

Here are statements from utilities and companies offering financial assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Peoples Gas:

Peoples Gas is committed to promoting health and safety in the Chicago communities we serve. As conditions with COVID-19 rapidly change, we are taking action to respond to our customers' concerns:

-Shut-offs suspended until May 1 - We suspended shut-offs for residential and business customers, unless unsafe conditions exist, to ensure the safety of our customers and employees. This is effective until May 1.

-Late payment charges waived - We understand that some of our customers will face financial hardships due to the spread of COVID-19. We are now waiving new late payment charges until May 1.

-Bill payment arrangement options can be reviewed and selected on our website at https://accel.peoplesgasdelivery.com/home/arrangements.aspx.

-Financial assistance is available through our Share the Warmth Program. Additionally, the application period continues through May 31 for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

-Safety comes first - We are rescheduling non-emergency appointments at this time and will reach out to customers at a later time to reschedule. Questions? Call us at 866-556-6001.

Safety is at the center of all we do. We remain committed to reducing the risks to our communities while providing the essential energy services our customers depend on, including responding to any emergency situations. We will continue to closely monitor the situation surrounding COVID-19.


ComEd:

-ComEd is taking action to help its customers with payment assistance programs and by imposing a moratorium on service disconnections and waiving new late payment charges through at least May 1, as many businesses and institutions are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by taking temporary measures to shut down or limit operations to control the spread of COVID-19.

-ComEd is helping customers through temporary or extended financial hardship and will be working with customers on a case-by-case basis to establish payment arrangements and identify energy assistance options.

-Under the Residential Special Hardship program, customers who face financial hardship such as job loss, illness or military deployment, or senior or disability hardships, may be eligible for grants based on need.

-Under the Nonprofit Special Hardship program, nonprofit organizations that struggle to pay their electric bills may be eligible for grants of up to $2,000 once every two years to help them cover their expenses and continue to fulfill their missions and serve the community.

-The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) enables low-income households to apply for assistance paying for winter energy services. Administered by community agencies throughout the areas ComEd serves, LIHEAP is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the state of Illinois.


Comcast:

-We will make it even easier for low-income families who live in a Comcast service area to sign up by offering new customers 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month.

-Also, we are increasing Internet speeds for the Internet Essentials service from 15/2 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps for all new and existing customers, which will be the speed of the service going forward. In this way, we will ensure that Internet Essentials customers will be able to use their Internet service for all their increased needs as a result of this health crisis. To receive the increased Internet speeds, existing customers will not need to do anything. The new speeds will be rolled out nationally over the next few days.

-We'll send all new customers a free self-install kit that includes a cable modem with a Wi-Fi router. There will be no term contract or credit check and no shipping fee.

-To sign up, applicants can simply visit www.internetessentials.com. The accessible website also includes the option to video chat with customer service agents in American Sign Language. There are also two dedicated phone numbers 1-855-846-8376 for English and 1-855-765-6995 for Spanish.

-Xfinity WiFi Free For Everyone: Xfinity WiFi hotspots across the country will be available to anyone who needs them for free - including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers. For a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots, visit www.xfinity.com/wifi. Once at a hotspot, consumers should select the "xfinitywifi" network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser.

-Pausing Our Data Plan: With so many people working and educating from home, we want our customers to access the internet without thinking about data plans. While the vast majority of our customers do not come close to using 1TB of data in a month, we are pausing our data plans for 60 days giving all customers Unlimited data for no additional charge.

-No Disconnects or Late Fees: We will not disconnect a customer's internet service or assess late fees if they contact us and let us know that they can't pay their bills during this period. Our care teams will be available to offer flexible payment options and can help find other solutions.

-Internet Essentials Free to New Customers: As announced yesterday, it's even easier for low-income families who live in a Comcast service area to sign-up for Internet Essentials, the nation's largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. New customers will receive 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month. Additionally, for all new and existing Internet Essentials customers, the speed of the program's Internet service was increased to 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. That increase will go into effect for no additional fee and it will become the new base speed for the program going forward.

-News, Information and Educational Content on X1: For those with school-age students at home, we've created new educational collections for all grade levels in partnership with Common Sense Media. Just say "education" into your X1 or Flex voice remote. To help keep customers informed, we also have created a collection of the most current news and information on Coronavirus. Just say "Coronavirus" into your X1 or Flex voice remote.

-24x7 Network Monitoring: Underpinning all of these efforts, Comcast's technology and engineering teams will continue to work tirelessly to support our network operations. We engineer our network capacity to handle spikes and shifts in usage patterns, and continuously test, monitor and enhance our systems and network to ensure they are ready to support customer usage. Our engineers and technicians staff our network operations centers 24/7 to ensure network performance and reliability. We are monitoring network usage and watching the load on the network both nationally and locally, and to date it is performing well.


AT&T

AT&T is proud to support our customers by pledging that, for the next 60 days, we will:

-Not terminate the service of any wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customer because of their inability to pay their bill due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

-Waive any late payment fees that any wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customer may incur because of economic hardship related to the coronavirus pandemic.

-Keep our public Wi-Fi hotspots open for any American who needs them.

-Unlimited AT&T Home Internet - All AT&T consumer home internet wireline customers, as well as Fixed Wireless Internet, can use unlimited internet data. Additionally, we'll continue to offer internet access for qualifying limited income households at $10 a month through our Access from AT&T program.

-AT&T World Connect Advantage - Business customers currently on or who purchase an AT&T World Connect Advantage package receive 50% off the current rate in a monthly bill credit (max $7.50/mo.).*

-Helping You Work and Learn Remotely - Businesses, universities and schools can keep their teams and classrooms connected through conference calls and video conferencing with Cisco Webex Meetings with AT&T for 90-days, and seamlessly forward calls to both mobile and landline phones with AT&T IP Flexible Reach.

-Distance Learning - AT&T is underwriting expenses for a "one-stop" resource center to support eLearning Days from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) available to all educators in schools to help them handle school closures and the increase in virtual learning due to COVID-19.
If you find yourself in financial trouble and unable to pay your bill, we're here to help you. Please contact us at 800-288-2020 for AT&T broadband, residential wireless or small business services and 611 from your AT&T device for wireless.


Sprint

We will support our residential and small business customers by:

-Not terminating service if they are unable to pay their Sprint bill because of the coronavirus, and

-Waiving late fees incurred because of economic circumstances related to the pandemic.

Customers with international long distance calling plans will receive complimentary international calling rates from the U.S. to countries defined by the CDC as Level 3.

-Customers with metered data plans will receive unlimited data per month for 60 days (a minimum of two bill cycles) at no extra cost.

-We will provide customers with an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot data per month for 60 days (a minimum of two bill cycles) at no extra cost.

-Coming soon:
-Customers with mobile hotspot-capable handsets who don't have mobile hotspot today will now get 20GB as well per month for 60 days (a minimum of two bill cycles) at no extra cost.

-For more information about these changes, please visit Sprint.com.


T-Mobile:

-T-Mobile will be removing smartphone data caps for all customers, adding more hotspot data.

-expanding data access for EmpowerED school.

-we plan to expand capacity for customers with compatible devices for 60 days by deploying 600 MHz spectrum from multiple companies, including Bluewater, Channel 51, Comcast, DISH, Grain Management affiliate NewLevel, LLC, LB Holdings and Omega Wireless, LLC in the markets where it can be quickly deployed

-We've also expanded roaming access for Sprint customers to use the T-Mobile network. With expanded roaming access tens of thousands of locations nationwide, schools and families connected to Sprint's network will have expanded coverage and capacity - including in rural areas - over the next 60 days.


Verizon Wireless:

-Our networks are engineered to manage anticipated increases in traffic

-Verizon waives late fees for those impacted by COVID-19

-We are tripling our data allowance for Verizon Innovative Learning schools; $10 million to nonprofits directed at supporting students and first responders.


The Illinois Department of Public Health has created a hotline at 1-800-889-3931. More information can be found at the IDPH website and the Chicago Department of Public Health website.
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