CHA Seniors Protest Electric Bills

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“How many dead elders and infants does it take before President George Bush, Gov. George Ryan and Mayor Richard Daley stop blocking the summer cooling program?”

That’s a question being asked in a petition by presidents and vice presidents of the Chicago Housing Authority’s North Side senior buildings, and Curly Cohen, from Affordable Power to the People. Together, they are working to maintain the CEDA summer cooling assistance program. On July 13, they protested at Gov. Ryan’s office at the James R. Thompson Building in the Loop. They had another march on July 30.

Each time, Ryan was unavailable and the coalition spoke with one of the governor’s assistants, according to Otta Henderson, vice president of the Larabee Apartments. Henderson said they postponed a trip to Washington, D.C., to talk with President Bush, hoping to convince him to allocate $6 million to revitalize the CEDA energy programs, especially the summer cooling program.

Henderson was asked what her coalition wanted from Ryan.

“We want him to restore CEDA energy program, the summer cooling assistance program,” she said. “We are not asking for help year round, just for the months of July, August and September. There are seniors afraid to use their air conditioners so they can maintain a low electricity charge.

“When I began to use my air conditioner this summer, my electricity jumped from $60 to $130. Now that’s a huge increase to me and I’m working. Can you imagine how devastating that would be to senior citizens whose monthly income are less than $200 or $300 a month.

“I think Commonwealth Edison should take this into consideration and lower their rates. It’s an injustice and insult to the seniors in the Chicago Housing Authority.”

Beryl Clemens is the president of Dickens and Burling Apartments. She plays an active role in the energy programs and protests hoping to restore the CEDA summer cooling program. Clemens said, “If Gov. George Ryan and Mayor Richard Daley can offer the Boeing Company $50 million to come to the City of Chicago, surely they can come up with $6 million for the CEDA energy programs.”

Georgiana Compos, the president of Clark and Irving Apartments, also participates in the energy protest marches and the North Side Local Advisory Council. The energy protest marches were planned and executed by Curly Cohen, the spokesman for Affordable Power to the People.

“We must continue with the protest marches and pursuing our legislators until the CEDA energy program has been rejuvenated,” Cohen said.

The petition signed by Cohen and the other protestors reads, “’Con’ Ed charges us just about the highest rates in the country. When we want to spell relief, it only happens when people die. In the heating holocaust of ’95, 733 people died; in ’99, 129 people died. Last year, with no big death count or real hot weather, we had the summer cooling program. We thought we would have it every summer because as soon as the air conditioner goes on, our $30-$40 bills become $100 and $120.

“The gas company created a crisis by charging so much money that the last 35,000 people who applied for CEDA are still on hold. 100,000 people face shut off based on their outstanding bills. Now there is no money left for summer cooling. To make matters worse, the gas and electric company will get $25 million public aid/corporate welfare. We believe the summer heat and bad air threaten our health, safety and comfort. We have a right to be cool in summer! We demand relief. It’s spelled: CEDA NOW.”

Willie Greenleaf, a resident at the Racine Apartments, said, “The CEDA program should be restored. The people in the senior buildings are sick. They need the summer cooling program. There’s a limit to their endurance. The firemen come here several times a day, treating people for heat exhaustion. Not every time they come here it’s heat related but the summer cooling program would eliminate a lot of visits.”

Responding to my inquiries to Gov. Ryan, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs wrote me a letter on Aug. 1.

According to the letter, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate are asking the president for funds for a summer cooling program, which would give Illinois $8.7 million.

The letter confirms the senior protestors’ claim that high winter gas prices have jeopardized the summer cooling program:

“The State of Illinois last summer provided funding for a summer cooling program but that was as a result of excess funds from the winter of 1999-2000. The winter of 2000-2001 was much more difficult due to harsher weather conditions and extremely high natural gas prices. The state of Illinois has spent $181 million to date for LIHEAP winter heating assistance and this has reduced our flexibility in being able to meet summer cooling demands.”

When contacted, Commonwealth Edison provided a fact sheet listing a few of their services.

ComEd listed LIHEAP, the state program that aids low-income families and seniors to pay their energy bills. LIHEAP also can provide emergency assistance grants if a household’s electric service is disconnected.

Through the Com Ed LIHEAP Energy Arearage Reduction (CLEAR) plan, households can pay off past-due bills. “Through this pilot program, Com Ed, the state of Illinois and customers of the utility will each pay one-third of the amount on past due bills to bring them to zero,” reads the brochure regarding the CLEAR program.

ComeEd also offers Budget Billing, which spreads a household’s payments evenly over the whole year so each month’s payment will be the same.

Com Ed also provides a service to their customers by training their meter readers and representatives to observe any unsafe conditions and report them to the proper agencies.

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