Thousands face utility shutoffs

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When an estimated 34,000 families have their utilities cut off April 1, it won’t be an April Fools Day joke.

When an estimated 34,000 families have their utilities cut off April 1, it won’t be an April Fools Day joke.

For customers who are behind in their natural gas and electricity bills and haven’t made sufficient payments during the winter months or established payment arrangements, services will be void, angering many who attended a recent news conference about the reckoning day.

“I am unemployed at this moment and it is difficult for me to pay my utility bill with the income that I am receiving,” Shanita Henderson said during the news conference held by the South Austin Coalition.

The coalition, along with Community and Economic Development Association (CEDA) and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), requested a four-month hold before utility companies discontinue service to low-income customers.

“We called this meeting today because we’re facing a social catastrophe,” said Elce Redmond, one of the coalition’s activists.

The coalition hopes that the utility companies create a more affordable payment plan that will help those low-income customers.

Henderson said she wore out all her options and each time she meets with organizations that provide families with assistance, she’s told the funds have been exhausted, and Commonwealth Edison and People’s Gas weren’t willing to make payment arrangements.

“They ask me for a certain amount of money and I don’t have it because of the situation I’m in,” she said.

According to NBCChicago.com, “People’s Gas and ComEd say they are working on programs to relieve the stress on their low-income customers.”

In the meantime, 13-year-old volunteer, Devonya Reese, will be among many to pass out flyers to inform residents of the West Side community what’s happening.

“I feel like [volunteering] is a big help because you know, we’re here supporting people and making sure their light and gas bill doesn’t go off so we’re just here kind of helping them,” said Reese.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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