Poor timing for increased rates

Last week, State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson began a petition drive against rate hikes proposed by Ameren Illinois Utilities and Illinois-American Water.

The companies are seeking state approval for rate increases of about 34 percent (Illinois American) and about $150 a year for an average Ameren customer…Last week, State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson began a petition drive against rate hikes proposed by Ameren Illinois Utilities and Illinois-American Water.

The companies are seeking state approval for rate increases of about 34 percent (Illinois American) and about $150 a year for an average Ameren customer. The increases still must be approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

While there are valid reasons to demanding these rate hikes, the proposed increases are unacceptable in the current economic climate.

Ameren cites increasing costs of materials for repairs in the wake of several heavy storms in the area and increasing numbers of bills that must be “written off” because customers are unable to pay as a few of the reasons for increasing rates.

Ameren and other utility companies should realize that a rate increase is not the solution for customers that already have trouble paying their bills.

Under the proposed increases, a typical residential customer would pay $97 more a year for electricity and $55 more for natural gas. Even among those who can afford these increases, people will have to sacrifice other necessities in order to survive day-to-day. In the long term, a rate increase for Ameren and Illinois-American is probably necessary, but in the short run it would only cause unneeded financial stress for families already struggling to make a living.

The proposed increase seems particularly misguided given that Ameren raised rates last September. That amounted to a $6 to $18 dollar monthly increase for electricity and $4 to $9 increase for gas.

It seems doubtful that costs for Ameren have risen so rapidly that this increase could not sustain them for more than a year.

No doubt utility companies are hurting along with everyone else, but companies have financial resources that households do not.

Every sector of society has been impacted by the financial crisis. Struggling families are the most vulnerable and therefore deserve the most protection.

Since most households have roughly the same utility costs, an increase in gas and electricity rates hits the poorest of the poor harder than the middle class. With both Ameren and Illinois-American having already raised rates in the past year, the proposed increases are unnecessary and would adversely impact many struggling families.