Wednesday, May 03, 2006

ACORN Fights for Seniors

g-nipsco 05-03-06
Copyright LJM 2006

GARY--The first leg in the race for justice has been run.
A midday protest Wednesday by the Northwest Indiana Association of Community Organizations
for Reform Now at the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, drew at least 30 supporters
and garnered a promise of a meeting from NIPSCO executives.
"We have a meeting with Mike Suggs at the local office. He wants to resolve some issues. In the immediacy, we will work out the problems of our members and from there...meet with the president of NIPSCO. That is what we came down here for today, we wanted to get a meeting," the Rev. Eric Weathersby, NWI ACORN leader, said.
He and his wife Katherine, are members of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago.
Tom Cuddy, a NIPSCO spokesman, said said a protest won't resolve the issue of high natural gas prices.
"We're going to meet Thursday to find out what (Weathersby's) issues are and work with him to resolve them," he said.
Cuddy said NIPSCO doesn't charge customers on energy assistance a deposit greater than two months service and in some instances, one. Customers pay a deposit when they have bad credit or a poor payment history with the company.
"Our goal is to keep our customers connected," Cuddy said.
Weathersby told ACORN members at their headquarters located 624 Broadway, that the bills that ACORN will negotiate will be for members of the group.
"We'd like it to be much broader but people have to come out and come together. These
people took time out because they believe in what ACORN is doing," he said. Membership in
ACORN is $20 per month.
Although local ACORN organizers are helping members with bills, they still have a broader
agenda. They want NIPSCO to allow a portion of deposits to be used to pay off winter
heating bills, make deposits affordable--no more than seven percent of a low to moderate
family's income--and provide a payment plan option that allows families to gradually pay
off their debts without fear of service disconnection.
Glen Park resident, Walter Avery--who was not a part of the protest--said the state should consider taking control of NIPSCO.
"There should be a lot more federal and state control. Illinois took over their
(power company). Now it's either pay or be in the dark," he said. No one helped him pay his $2,000 bill in spite of a lengthy hospitalization, he said.
Protesters walked from their headquarters to NIPSCO holding signs that read, "Seniors Are
in the Dark! Stop Shut-offs Reconnect Now" and "When You are Poor, You Pay More." They
circled in front of the NIPSCO building drawing support from passersby in the form of horn honking.
"We have seniors and working families in danger of shut-offs," the Rev. Weathersby's wife, Katherine said. Emma Robinson, 75 and her sister, an 86-year-old Alzheimer patient, live in a home owned by Robinson's son, but have had the gas shut off. The electricity was kept on because Robinson is on oxygen, she said. A six-day stint in the hospital with a bout of pneumonia, led to her $1,488 bill, she said. Energy costs for her are $200 to $400 a month. She doesn't want to ask for help but she needs it.
Diane Austin, said because of non-payment of a past bill, she is negotiating repayment of her daughter's bill in the house that they share. She now regrets not paying the $260 past-due account in her name.
"They wouldn't give me a plan because it's in my daughter's name and some programs don't
help," she said.
A few members shared stories of making minimal payments or no payments at all. Some feigned
ignorance of cut-off notices received but say a cut-off notice is necessary in order to get
assistance from some groups.
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