In response to pieces here and elsewhere noting that the city let the moratorium on water and power shutoffs expire yesterday without action or comment — at the height of the pandemic so far, in the face of the season's first major snowstorm, as people continue to struggle to pay bills — Councilman Brian Kazy, who chairs city council's utility committee, said in a statement that they are working to ensure that no Cleveland resident faces a shutoff this winter during the pandemic.
"I know there is much consternation about a December 1st date for shutting off utilities to residents who are behind in payments. Obviously customers of Cleveland Public Power, which serves a portion of the city, and of the Cleveland Water Department which serves more than 70 communities in Northeast Ohio, who are behind on their bills are very concerned," Kazy said in a statement. "But recent notices do not mean customers are facing an immediate shut off. First of all, both CPP and Cleveland Water are working with customers who are behind on their bills."
"Secondly, Council is working closely with the Jackson administration to ensure that no resident loses electricity or water during the pandemic or during winter months," Kazy continued. "Customers behind on their bills should contact CPP and the Water Department as soon as possible."
While it's nice to see Kazy explicitly acknowledge that despite the calendar turning to Dec. 1st that no one is facing an immediate shutoff at this time — it would be, as we noted yesterday, unconscionable — it'd also be nice to hear this, spread far and wide, from the mayor himself.
It's certainly not what's been communicated by City Hall, which has said in a recent press release that it's a "goal" to keep customers connected to service, not a promise it's working to ensure it keeps:
The decision to resume disconnections has been done with great concern and awareness of the financial difficulties and other vulnerabilities many of our customers are facing due to the pandemic. Our goal has been to work with customers and offer resources to avoid disconnections.
Financial relief tools are in place to assist customers in need. In addition to our current affordability programs, we are offering extended payment plan options as well as coordinating with outside agencies to refer customers for additional services. We continue to diligently notify customers with past due accounts, so they receive plenty of notice in addition to the regular multi-notice procedures. It is always our goal to keep customers connected to utility service.
Perhaps the official moratorium has become an unofficial moratorium and the expiration is simply meant to prod the 90,000 households behind on water payments and the 28,500 households behind on Cleveland Public Power payments to get on a payment plan or pay something, anything at all, if they can.
But many of those customers are simply unable to pay anything at the moment, and while some qualify for assistance, many others will not. Support organizations are already seeing a huge uptick in calls and expect that trend to continue. There's natural and urgent concern, not just "consternation." Maybe the city knows it won't turn anyone's heat or power off, but the citizens surely don't know.