CHICAGO (CBS) — ComEd has expanded a program that helps military families, veterans, seniors, and others who have trouble paying their electric bills, while at the same time warning the program won’t continue unless lawmakers approve a rate hike.

The utility has partnered with hospitals to expand its CARE programs, and offer financial assistance to people facing extended hospitalization or long-term outpatient care.

“They’ve been hospitalized for five days or longer, and then also when you take a look at what their electric use will be when they go home, there may be specific medical equipment that is reliant on that electricity,” said ComEd vice president Melissa Washington.

Pam Northrop, a licensed clinical social worker at La Rabida Children’s Hospital, helps parents navigate the paperwork.

“That will make a big difference for the families, to be able to care for their child at home,” she said.

ComEd spent $50 million on the CARE program over the past five years, as mandated by state law, and said it will do the same for the next five years if the Illinois General Assembly goes along with higher rates for everyone else.