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A hand up for delinquent bill payers

Forget handouts, welfare checks, and subsidies. An Illinois utility has devised a unique approach to addressing its customers' needs regarding delinquent bills.

A Hand Up, developed by Illinois Power Company, provides low-income customers with jobs in thrift shops or local community service groups, and applies their $10 per hour salary directly toward unpaid utility bills.

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They can also pay off their debts simply by attending classes to earn a high-school equivalency degree.

"No one really wants a handout, but nearly everyone appreciates a hand up," says the program's founder, Sharon Durbin.

A Hand Up began in 1998 with a single work site and has since been introduced in more than 25 counties throughout Illinois. And after a recent state grant of $1 million, Ms. Durbin hopes to establish sites statewide by December.

Other utility companies across the United States are now looking into the program. As a result, A Hand Up recently developed a workshop to help make the program available to utilities nationwide.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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