PHOTO BY CHUCK HOVEN
Friday, January 17, 2020; End Poverty Now Press Conference to present demands to Cleveland Public Power, 3500 Lorain Avenue: Adam Jefferson, who lives in an all-electric subsidized apartment, had his electricity shut off by Cleveland Public Power because he was unable to pay the full bill. Jefferson says on cold nights he has been going to a Metanoia Project shelter to stay warm.
End Poverty Now Coalition raises concerns about Cleveland Public Power’s business practices and shutoffs
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, February 2020) At a January 17th Press Conference, The End Poverty Now Coalition demanded changes to Cleveland Public Power’s business practices that are resulting in what the coalition says are too many utility shutoffs. According to the End Poverty Now Coalition, in 2018 over 10% of Cleveland Public Power’s customers experienced a power shut off.
Cleveland Public Power customer Jonathon Harris testified that the power in his apartment, along with 10 to 15 other apartments of the 24 apartments where he lives in East Cleveland, was shut off on April 15th. The building uses electricity for everything including heat. Harris said there was no advance notice that the power would be turned off. Harris says he was making monthly payments on his bill, but he was unable to pay off the entire bill.
Kimberly Ambruster, a college student on limited income, says she was making payments to the Home Energy Assistance Program mistakenly believing that the payments were going to both Dominion gas and Cleveland Public Power. She found out that Cleveland Public Power was not part of HEAP and she had accumulated a bill of about $500. She went down to Cleveland Public Power to see if she could arrange a payment plan and was told that Cleveland Public Power has no payment plans, and she would have to pay off the entire bill to have power restored. Ambruster says she was able to borrow the money, to pay off the bill and get the power restored. Ambruster says she is now falling behind on the bill again. She says she is worried that without access to a payment plan she will get shutoff again.
Adam Jefferson says he is a low-income person who lives in a subsidized apartment. He says Cleveland Public Power shut off his electricity in the fall because he was unable to pay his full bill. He says he is unable to pay the full balance to get his power turned back on. Jefferson says without electricity, his apartment has no heat. He says, “I have been going to Metanoia to stay warm on the cold nights, but I am about to be evicted from my apartment because I do not have electricity, which is required by my lease.”
Joyce Manz says her electricity was shut off even though she had a medical certificate on file to prevent disconnections due to living with a relative who is dependent on the electricity for her oxygen machine.
One of the member organizations of the End Poverty Now Coalition is Organize Ohio. Larry Bresler, Organize Ohio Executive Director, says, “It is pretty clear what the legal issues are.” He notes that Cleveland Public Power (CPP) is not following City of Cleveland codified ordinances that outline the process of notifying customers of pending shutoff. It is also violating due process rights in established federal law. He notes that Cleveland Public Power does not publicize the availability of certificates to get a doctors’ notice to avoid shutoff. Bresler says CPP’s procedures for shutoff should be no different than that of the water department – both are vital utilities.
End Poverty Now activist Diane Howard, a resident of Lakeview Terrace, called for Cleveland Public Power to provide a monthly list to Cleveland City Council and the public showing the number of shutoffs for each Cleveland City Council Ward. Howard also called for Cleveland Public Power to make public how the Energy or Ecological Adjustment Charge (EAC) that appears on the bill is calculated. She demanded that, “Any rate increase in the EAC must require a vote of City Council.”
Jacie Jones, an organizer with Organize Ohio, talked about due process and customer rights. She called for Cleveland Public Power to make available the names of members of its Review Board and the meeting records of the board. She also urged that Cleveland City Council require that Cleveland Public Power place information about due process rights of customers and a statement about the medical waiver on its bills. She called for a link to the medical waiver to be placed on the bills as well.
Delaney Jones, also an organizer with Organize Ohio, called on Cleveland Public Power to have personal contact in person or by phone with people who are disabled or age 62 or over within 48-hours prior to shutting off their electricity. She said in cases where landlords pay the electric bill, tenants should be individually notified prior to shutoff. She called for a customer’s current address to be used to send shut off notices. Delaney Jones also called upon Cleveland Public Power to start a sliding scale payment plan for customers based upon their income.
Activist Tim Walters called for Cleveland Public Power to improve its communication with the community. Walters called for reducing wait time on the phone to less than 30 minutes. He called on Cleveland City Council to make sure that Cleveland Public Power has adequate customer service staff based on the number of calls they receive. He said all calls to Cleveland Public Power should be answered within 24 hours and all staff should be adequately trained to know what assistance programs are available to customers. Walters called upon Cleveland Public Power to hold community meetings to let the public know what utility assistance programs are available and make sure local nonprofit organizations that work with the community are also aware of these programs.
Brian Mallory, an organizer with Organize Ohio working with the End Poverty Now Coalition, said the goal of the End Poverty Now Coalition is to reduce the overall number of CPP shutoffs, institute a moratorium on winter shutoffs, and increase transparency in the billing process. Mallory says he would like Cleveland Public Power be an asset rather than a detriment to the community.
Mallory said the End Poverty Now Coalition is working to raise $5,000 so it can offer assistance to help people in need that are facing utility shutoffs. Mallory said the End Poverty Now Coalition plans to speak with members of the Cleveland City Council Utilities Committee about the issues and concerns raised at the Press Conference.