Consumers for Fair Utility Rates tackle the high cost of utilities
by Tim Walters

(Plain Press, September 2005) On Thursday evening, August 25th, over 30 residents of the west side disregarded the summer heat wave and came together at Sagrada Familia Chuch to discuss winter heating bills. This was the first in a series of monthly meetings held by Consumers For Fair Utility Rates (CFFUR) to provide information on assistance programs, educate residents on their options on choosing a gas supplier, and determine how a community can fight the rising cost of natural gas.
Much of the meeting focused on assistance programs and how best to use them.  Once again Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) will be available to help those under 150% of poverty with winter bills and Emergency-HEAP (E-HEAP) will be there to prevent gas and electric disconnections.  HEAP goes into place on Sept. 1st and E-HEAP will be available Nov.1st.  Information regarding these and other assistance programs will soon be on the Consumers for Fair Utility Rates’ new wide site, which will be up and running in a few weeks.
Anita Brindza, Executive Director of Cudell Improvement, spoke on the winterizing program available at no charge to qualified residents (150% of poverty and below.) She outlined the benefits of the program and said Cudell Improvement was taking applications now. Some residents were surprised to find that they did qualify and began the application process that night. CFFUR member Alan Forman spent some time explaining how to determine which suppliers provided the best rate and offered tips on making a choice.  He provided copies of the groups energy choice chart which is the only one that provides residents with the full amount a supplier will charge including tax and transportation.  This will also be on the web-site.

Joe Meissner of Cleveland Legal Aid pointed out that the telephone lifeline program was still available and could save some money for residents.  Some were able to follow his suggestion and filled out application forms that he provided.
It was pointed out several times during the meeting that a significant number of those having difficulty paying heating bills were not eligible for assistance programs.  This was especially true of seniors.  This lead to a spirited discussion on what needed to be done to provide some relief.  It was decided that Senator Mike DeWine and Senator George Voinovich along with Representative Dennis Kucinich would be invited to the next meeting to discuss options with them and to request some action on the national level.  State Representative Mike Skindell will also be asked to join us to look at what could be done on the state level.   The next meeting will be on Sept. 29th from 6 to 8 pm at Sagrada Familia, which is at 7719 Detroit Ave.  All are welcome.

Tim Walters is a community organizer at the May Dugan Center.


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