With nine locations in the Cicero and Berwyn area, the Children’s Center is a nonprofit day care and child care business that serves approximately 900 families.
Center administrators say its budget, funded mostly by grants, does not leave a lot of wiggle room - especially not for the kind of shocking charges they received for their routine AT&T business phone service back in December of 2019: a more than $28,000 monster of a bill.
After a yearlong battle to get the charges explained by their carrier AT&T, the Children’s Center said its phone lines were disconnected at all nine locations this past December.
Executive Director Bina Habibi said the disconnection was stunning, given that the Center has been an AT&T customer for 42 years, always paying its bills on time. Monthly service for the Center averaged around $1,900 each month. She said their multiple efforts to have AT&T explain how the bill became so inflated were an exercise in frustration.
“We are a nonprofit organization, what do we do with this bill?” Habibi told NBC 5 Responds. “I mean, it does not make any sense to us, you know, and I know that they say that it's a technical error. So it's at their end.”
Habibi’s executive assistant Cyndie Pergram said she sent multiple emails asking for explanation on the charges. She said she learned the Center’s business contract expired in December of 2019, unbeknownst to administrators, and that they received no warning from AT&T that their contract expired. In the 20 days between that expiration and the signing of a new contract, somehow the Center’s routine calling pattern exploded into more than $28,000 of charges. Pergram said her efforts to get those charges explained got her nowhere.
“As we dove into it and spoke to different people, we were transferred around… we got multiple email addresses,” Pergram said. "They just kept denying that there was anything wrong with that bill.”
The Children’s Center also appealed to state regulators for help, after their lines were disconnected. They say it upended all the COVID-19 protocols they put in place to help parents safely deliver and pick-up their children from the Center.
“We don’t want any of these issues, when we are serving families and children,” Habibi said. “In these times of COVID, of course other times too, but these are times when everyone’s so scared.”
NBC 5 Responds reviewed the documentation between the Children’s Center and AT&T agents, in which the Center was repeatedly instructed to pay the bulk of the massive bill. We asked AT&T why the charges skyrocketed in the three weeks between contracts, and also why the Center was not alerted that the contract was expiring.
An AT&T spokesperson escalated the inquiry and told NBC5 Responds the Center’s bill would be adjusted down to its previous monthly amount. Service has since been restored.
In a statement, AT&T said: "We restored service and issued credits for the past-due bill. We’ve apologized to the customer for any inconvenience this caused.”
“It was very scary they would do that,” Habibi told NBC 5 Responds. “Now we don’t have pay the amount we were charged with no explanation. Thank you, thank you…we are relieved. And less sleepless nights now!”