Shanita Henderson is dreading the first day of April.
She’s not worried bout April Fool’s jokes, but something far more serious. The single mother of two is $400 behind on her ComEd bill, and she knows she is on the disconnect list.
Henderson is not alone. The South Austin Coalition estimates that as many as 34,000 families could face utility disconnects because they haven’t paid or are behind on their bills.
“We are facing a social catastrophe,” said the coalition’s Elce Redmond.
The coalition and the Energy Action Network are calling for a four-month hold before the utility companies order shut-offs for low-income customers. They would also like to see utilities adopt more affordable repayment plans and they want to lower the cost of reconnections to $200 or 25% of the bill -- whichever is less. The groups hope to work with utility companies in coming up with an overall plan to help low-income customers.
“We are looking for a come to Jesus meeting,” said the SACC’s Bob Vondrasek. He said the situation is worse this year than in years past because of the state of the economy. Vondrasek said he is seeing more and more people out of work and falling behind on their bills.
The State of Illinois recently passed legislation that allows low-income families to pay 6% of their income for utilities. However, the state has been slow to implement the law because it has yet to develop a system to track both utility bills and income for the affected customers.
People’s Gas and Com Ed say they are working on programs to relieve the stress on their low-income customers.