Chicagoans fight for affordable energy

CHICAGO – With the hottest summer months still ahead of us, a Chicago group is charging that Chicago’s electric utility, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), is violating the provisions of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

In an Aug. 1 press conference in Chicago’s Bridgeport community, a spokesman for the Affordable Power to the People (APTP), Curly Cohen, demanded that Com Ed conform to the state program that mandates that low-income seniors and disabled residents be able to maintain electrical service. Victims of shut-offs are supposed to recieve funds to reinstate their service on reasonable terms.

Cohen said “a thousand elders (senior citizens) have died since 1995” in Chicago due to the heat. He said that many seniors suffer needlessly because the electricity rates are unaffordable. According to APTP, over 5,200 families have been shut off just this summer, and so far over 50,000 families are without electrical service, up from 25,000 last year.

For many seniors, disabled people and families with young children, electricity is not just a luxury but a necessity, volunteers with the summer cooling program said.

Agnes Shilney, a sprightly senior who has spent the last week leading workshops, said she started volunteering after she received energy assistance with the help of APTP. She said, “When you’ve worked all your life, you are entitled to pay affordable rates.” During the intense heat of the summer months APTP holds workshops for residents to apply to LIHEAP to receive assistance with their utility bills. At the Aug. 1 workshop and press conference over 40 Chicago residents with bills ranging from $150 to $500 applied for energy assistance.

However, members of APTP are not satisfied with helping residence go through the long process of submitting the necessary paperwork and filling out six forms. According to Cohen, “Gas and electric rates are fundamentally unaffordable, the program (LIHEAP) is good, but we deserve justice.”

APTP wants a law passed that guarantees that low-income residents would pay no more than 5 percent of their income for electricity. They are organizing for a protest this September to dramatize their demands.

Another participant, Virgen Ramos Rosario, described how one of her children is asthmatic and for health reason needs air conditioning. “They (ComEd) want $271 by Monday which is a third of my income,” Rosario said.

The author can be reached at bkishner@pww.org