Iola’s utility policy handcuffs the poor

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opinions

October 27, 2017 - 12:00 AM

Nearly 19 percent of Allen County residents (your neighbors) live below poverty level, and 40 percent only live at 200 percent of the poverty level, and Humanity House has taken up the task of helping these people and families keep their utilities on. This has proven very challenging because city policy makes it extremely difficult for people who are short on funds to keep their lights, heat, and even water running.
The city of Iola has utility guidelines that do not allow partial payments. If you can pay $190 of a $210 bill but don’t have any income until the day after the shutoff date, they will not accept that as payment and leave your utilities on until the next day when you have the remaining money.
Your utilities will be shut off, and you’ll be charged a $30 reconnect fee. The city does not care if you or someone in your household is elderly and on oxygen or is an infant. All of your utilities will be shut off over $20. And you’ll have to pay $30 to get them turned back on. That’s the current policy.
Once your utilities are off, if there is no one to help you, your children will have no electricity, hot water, or heat, and your family can become subject to a visit from the Kansas Department of Children and Families. All over $20.
The city of LaHarpe will work with someone on a payment date, and they don’t shut off utilities if a person in the household uses oxygen. The city of Humboldt will accept partial payment or delayed payment.
Our city’s utility policies, though, are punitive to poor people and people living on fixed incomes. Unfortunately, none of that will be changing in the near future, and winter is just around the corner.
It has also become the “norm” to raise utility rates to cover the cost of other city expenses. These sorts of taxes and increases seem fair, because on the surface everyone pays the same amount. However, a $50 monthly increase in utilities maybe is not much of a difference for somebody making $5,000 a month. For a person living in poverty, whose monthly income is $1,356 at the most, $50 can be the difference between having running water or having medication.
So far in 2017, Humanity House has helped 257 families in Allen County keep their utilities on. We do ask that the person repay these funds through volunteering or a payment plan. A good portion of those families have part or most of the money for their bill, but have limited income and can’t meet the whole payment. Some have good jobs, but an unexpected emergency has left them unable to pay their bill in full. Some are disabled. And some just take as much help as they can get, and we accept that, especially if there are children in the house, because it’s the children we are ultimately helping.
On Nov. 16, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the New Community Building in Riverside Park, Humanity House will be hosting a Chili and Cinnamon Roll Utility Relief Fundraiser. All proceeds from the sales will go to help households avoid utility shut-off. Deliveries will be made to businesses that want to treat their workers to lunch, and those arrangements can be made by calling 620-380-6664. We hope you will mark this on your calendar and participate. Helping our friends and neighbors is a good thing. Kindness matters!

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