Monday, January 26, 2009

Stop Utility Shutoffs to Elderly in Winter

This needs to stop.

A pathologist said a 93-year-old Bay City man froze to death inside his home - his body found days after city workers said they limited electricity flowing to the house.

Marvin E. Schur lived alone, wife died several years ago. No kids. Neighbors say he was hard of hearing and had "a little bit of dementia". The city had applied a "limiting" device to his power supply in advance of a shutoff; a customer has ten days to make arrangements on overdue bills before they shut the power off completely. You draw too much power, and the thing shuts down, cutting off your power. Neighbors were unsure if he knew how to reset the device, so essentially this was a shutoff, even though the power company can claim otherwise.

Sad thing is - he was going to make the effort to pay the bill.

George Pauwels Jr. said Schur owed almost $1,100 in electricity bills to the city of Bay City, though Pauwels said he noticed money clipped to those bills on Schur's kitchen table the day he found Schur's body.

And the really tragic part about all of this - the exact same thing happened last year. 90-year-old Phyllis Willett of Vicksburg was found dead in her home, her mentally disabled daughter suffering injuries from exposure and frostbite, four days after their electricity was shutoff by Indiana Michigan Power. She also had the money to pay her overdue bill - but no one had contacted her in person. IMP paid a "settlement" with the Michigan Public Service Commission of $127,250, which was divided up between two charities that service the elderly. The company acknowledged that they failed to properly notify of shutoff - and as of this month, they are being sued by Willet's brother.

Last year, the House Dems introduced a "package of bills" to stop this from happening - and it went nowhere. HB5593 would have required notice in person or certified mail of a shutoff. That was the only one formally introduced at the time - if there were more later, they weren't reported.

Something stronger than that is required when it comes to protection for the elderly. The House Dems had a good plan in print...

  • Prohibit utilities from shutting off a senior's utilities in the winter and require them to work to ensure that those with mental disabilities don't have their utilities shut off.
  • Require utilities to give customers at least 15 days notice before shutoff and notify them in person or by certified mail, and give low-income customers who are part of the Winter Protection Program 30 days to pay their delinquent bill before shutting off service.
  • Mandate that utilities visit the home of a senior customer who has not restored service within three business days to tell them how they can resolve the situation.

  • ... whatever happened with this?

    There will be an outcry over this needless death, just like last year. Let's hope there is further follow-up this time, and prevent this from happening again. Shutting off power and heat to the elderly in wintertime is never justified.