NAACP Report Outlines Disproportionate Impact of Utility Shut-Offs on Poor and African American Communities
BALTIMORE, MD –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 3rdhottest 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 the poor, the elderly and communities of color,” said NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks. “The measure of our great nation is not unreasoned and unrestrained profitability but rather reasoned solutions and unrestrained compassion for vulnerable populations. This report is inspired by such compassion and offers such solutions,” emphasized NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks.
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:
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:
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
“Caught between a rock and a hard place, low-income families across the country are often faced with tough choices between putting food on the table, paying for medicine and lighting and/or heating their homes.” said Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. “In researching this report, we’ve seen too many cases where poverty ends up being a death sentence when circumstances result in fatally perilous choices.
For Arizona native Amy Mays whose struggles with utility shut-off and path to energy independence are profiled in the report, new policies are needed immediately.
“We need these solutions sooner rather than later, because climate change is going to make these issues worse. Extreme weather events, like dangerously hot and cold days, are projected to increase as a result of climate change – stretching ratepayer’s pockets and putting them at even greater risk if their power is shut off. ”
The amount owed by low-income customers for unpaid utilities often has a minimal impact on company finances.
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
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:
“We can create more humane policies but it will involve a greater number of activists and individuals from communities disparately affected by cut-off policies,” said Jacqui Patterson.
“Through directly engaging elected officials, utility companies and local legislators, we can get the type of solutions listed in the report passed into law and in doing so change this nation for the better” she added.
Copies of the “Lights Out in the Cold” report can be found on our website at naacp.org
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