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Paying Rent And Utilities When COVID-19 Forces You Out Of Work

CHICAGO (CBS) -- No work due to the coronavirus pandemic means no money to pay the bills for those struggling to make ends meet.

From utility bills to rent or mortgage, the question is: if your income is now longer flowing, how long can you keep the lights on?

CBS 2's Vince Gerasole found some utility companies are giving customers some relief.

Musician John Perrin is now playing to the sound of silence.

"I got a text message that for two months all my work was canceled," Perrin said. "Pretty frightening."

Days of panic gave way to sobering reality.

"It's kind of this thought: how am I going to pay rent?" he said.

From the south suburbs, Marlene Miller says she's out of work, and already juggling workarounds to meet her bills.

"A lot of unsettling circumstances," she said.

Melissa Washington, senior VP of ComEd said the utility has suspended disconnections for customers unable to pay their bills, and is waiving late charges through at least May 1.

"The first thing I want them to do is not to panic," Washington said. "They will not be without power at this time."

ComEd's response mirrors emergency plans rolled out by many of Illinois' utilities; from Nicor to People's Gas to Comcast Cable, utilities will not be shutting off service for non-payment until May 1st. Assistance programs are similar too.

"The other thing we have is a plethora of services and programs to help make payments," Washington said.

But when it came to her cable bill, with disputed charges from months ago, Miller's service was disconnected until she paid $250. Internet was crucial for her daughter's at-home schooling.

"They apparently found a loophole, because I had an outstanding bill," she said.

Elsewhere, the City of Chicago continues its policy of not shutting off water; and if you get behind on your rent and mortgage, Cook County has halted foreclosures and evictions until April 15 at the earliest.

Asked how long ComEd could extend its policy suspending disconnections if the COVID-19 crisis drags on, Washington said, "even though this is unprecedented, this is not something that will last forever."

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