Ensuring the Rights of Cleveland Public Power Customers During the Pandemic and Beyond
by Delaney Jones
This article is the fifth in a series based on issues that came out of the Cleveland End Poverty Now Coalition’s October 17th, 2019 public hearing about utility shutoffs through Cleveland Public Power (CPP).
The first article focused on the issues that customers face when applying for assistance to avoid shutoffs. The second highlighted the lack of due process and proper notification. The third article focused on the absence of affordable payment plans. The fourth article discussed CPP’s recent commitment to reconnecting power for those shut off due to COVID-19 concerns. This article focuses on efforts to ensure that all Clevelanders have power during this pandemic and the fight for long term accountability and transparency.
In our last article, we spoke about Mayor Jackson’s announcement that city utility departments would cease turning off power to residents and reconnect customers already shut off upon request. However, many people remain unaware of their right to reconnection due to a lack of effective communication on behalf of CPP to their customers. The same goes for customers of Cleveland Water.
CPP’s refusal to reconnect households until people call is insufficient. Hundreds or thousands of Cleveland households may still be without necessary and life-saving utilities. CPP and Cleveland Water, valuable public entities with democratic missions to serve the public, must do more to ensure people they serve have electricity and water.
The Cleveland End Poverty Now Coalition and partners have recently joined together to urge public officials to ensure the human rights of Clevelanders. Mayor Jackson and Public Utilities Director Davis must commit to publishing a plan that details how CPP and Cleveland Water will ensure, through improved outreach to customers and judicious use of automatic reconnections, that every household in Cleveland has electricity and water.
Keeping CPP and Cleveland Water accountable does not end when the pandemic ends. We also urge these public officials to commit to extending the suspension of shutoffs for a 60-day grace period after Ohio’s State of Emergency is over, and enroll each household struggling to pay bills in payment plans. Once the outbreak begins to subside, families will experience difficulty getting back on their feet. Accessible payment plans are necessary to give customers a chance to pay back past due balance.
We published these demands and attempted to gain the attention of city leaders through an online petition. The petition can be accessed via this link: https://www.cuycpc.org/utilitypetition/. Multiple local citizen groups contributed to these efforts, including the End Poverty Now Coalition, the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, Peace Action Network, Sunrise Movement, Ohio Citizen Action, and more. A letter was sent to Public Utilities Director Davis and Mayor Jackson regarding these demands.
The city’s response mentions the reconnection policy and states that the city is responding adequately. However, the response does not address any of the demands and does not give any acknowledgement towards extending the shut-off beyond the end of the emergency period.
We remain concerned that Clevelanders are still without power and water. We continue to call on city departments to ensure every household has utilities during and after this pandemic.
Editor’s Note: The author of the above article, Delaney Jones, is an organizer for Organize Ohio working with the Cleveland End Poverty Now Coalition.