In responses to pleas it heard earlier in the month from the nonprofit social service sector, the California Public Utilities Commission Thursday approved added protection for qualified low-income utility customers against this winter's expected high natural gas costs. The CPUC made significant changes to two of the state's major low-income customer programs.

Changes were approved unanimously for both the California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) and Low-Income Energy Efficiency (LIEE) programs. The former provides discounted rates; the latter weatherization and appliance replacement services for qualifying low-income customers.

Commissioner Dian Grueneich, who spearheaded the effort over a brief three-week period to alter the programs, called the decision "the result of a true collaboration between all of the stakeholders. It shows that when we work together in a spirit of cooperation, we truly can make a difference in the every day lives of Californians."

Changes in the existing programs include:

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