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NAACP Report on Utility Shut-Offs

Utility Disconnections Leave Thousands around the Nation “Out in the Cold” or Left in the Dark

NAACP Report Outlines Disproportionate Impact of Utility Shut-Offs on Poor and African American Communities

According to a new report from the NAACP, utility company shut off policies disproportionately impact low-income and African American communities, literally leaving thousands in the dark, stranded in the cold during winter or severely impacted by sweltering summer temperatures.

With 2016 on record as the hottest year to date, and January of this year documented as the 3rd hottest January on record, many are looking at the coming summer and winter months with fear and dread regarding the potential for utility shut-offs, that leave a disproportionate number of African American and poor communities in the dark and out in the cold.

The life-threatening fact that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, means climate change and global warming are painful household realities for those whose heat, air-conditioning and power are shut off. Dangerous and unnecessary shut offs in the sweltering heat and frigid cold disproportionately impact low-income, the elderly and communities of color. 

The report issued by the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program (ECJP) shows lower income communities spend a greater portion of income on electricity and heating costs than high-income communities. African Americans are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-African Americans and spend a significantly higher fraction of their household income on electricity and heating as non-African Americans, who spend more on energy used in the production and consumption of goods.

Since African Americans make up a higher percentage of low-income households, their vulnerability to high energy prices and in turn utility disconnections is exacerbated at levels disproportionate to other groups due to rate hikes or swings in weather.

The NAACP’s ECJP in analyzing state policies concerning utility shut-offs, showed:

  • customers with limited income bear a disproportionate burden of energy bills;
  • disconnections have a disparate impact on low-income communities and communities of color;
  • customers may be reliant on utility services for medical devices and life-supporting systems;
  • vulnerable customers' use of hazardous heating, cooling, and lighting measures can have harmful and even fatal results.

NAACP ECJP also highlights the inconsistencies in state shut-off polices, which makes it tougher to implement national utility reforms. States and the District of Columbia are uniform only in the fact that all are required to send out disconnection notices, yet:

  • 7 states offer no payment plans to cure delinquency;
  • 8 states have no medical protection policies on affecting disconnection of services;
  • 11 states have no disconnection limitation polices;
  • 14 states have no date-based protection policies. Date based – set specific dates of when customers cannot without due diligence be disconnected from a utility service;
  • 28 states have no temperature-based policies: Meaning regardless of how cold it becomes, utilities can be shut-off;
  • 11 states have no disconnection limitations; and
  • 36 states have reconnection fees.

These inconsistencies in consumer protections result in thousands of individuals and families each year ending up with no heat or power in their homes during the worst of times.

Unfortunately, these numbers are slated to expand tremendously due to President Donald Trump’s proposed elimination of the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The elimination of LIHEAP would disparately impact over a million African Americans, and nearly 7 million Americans who utilize LIHEAP.

SAMPLE ESTIMATES OF STATES AFFECTED BY ELIMINATING LIHEAP

Iowa - 85,777 households

Michigan - 623,549 households

Ohio - 454,520 households

Pennsylvania - 391,461 households

Wisconsin - 214,531 households

*Climate Nexus

The amount owed by low-income customers for unpaid utilities.

Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (First Energy) 2015-2016

Executive            Base Salary         Total Compensation       Pay Increase

1                              $  1,118,558.00  $             4,238,701.00        $    3,120,143.00

2                              $     636,154.00  $             2,339,431.00        $    1,703,277.00

3                             $      510,231.00  $             7,054,125.00        $    6,543,894.00

4                              $     752,789.00  $             3,004,793.00        $    2,252,004.00

5                             $      599,176.00  $             2,135,552.00        $    1,536,376.00

6                             $      552,404.00  $             2,017,272.00        $    1,464,868.00

Total                     $ 4,169,312.00              $     20,789,874.00      $   16,620,562.00

A study of utility costs and spending in Cleveland, OH found that while customers with Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company who were facing disconnection owed nearly $12.3 million in unpaid bills between 2014 and 2015, the top executives for the same company were paid more than $16.6 million in performance bonuses.

Total Service Disconnections for Nonpayment

Jun 2014 – May 2015

Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company             14,594

Columbia Gas of Ohio   92,313

Dominion East Ohio       62,398

Orwell Natural Gas         $216

Total      169,521

According to the NAACP, there are several solutions that can implemented by states and utilities to begin to decrease the impact of shut-offs among poor and communities of color. The solution strategy begins with the establishment of a universal right to uninterrupted energy service, which would ensure that provisions are in place to prevent utility disconnection due to non-payment and arrearages.

The NAACP ECJP also calls for a moratorium on utility shut-offs and calls for utility companies to incorporate a basic set of principles into their policies including:

  • Secure ACCESS to utility services for all households;
  • INCLUSION of all customers in the development of utility policies and regulations;
  • TRANSPARENCY of the actions of and information held by utility companies, regulating bodies; legislatures, and utility affiliated organizations;
  • PROTECTION of the human and civil rights of all customers; and
  • Advance programs that help ELIMINATE POVERTY, so that all customers can pay utility bills.

Copies of the “Lights Out in the Cold” report can be found on our website at naacp.org

Click here for a copy or email mrussell@naacpnet.org

(NAACP Press Release)

Norris McDonaldComment