Sign-On Letter: December 10, 2020

Note: This letter was released on Thursday, December 10, 2020. Since then, Evergy announced they are pausing utility shut-offs until at least March, 2021. Ameren only pledged to halt utility shut-offs through January 5, 2021.

While these are small steps in the right direction, Build Power MoKan continues to call on Evergy, Governor Kelly, Governor Parson, the Kansas Corporation Commission, the Missouri Public Service Commission and all other elected officials in Evergy’s service territory in Kansas and Missouri work together to accomplish the following actions:

  1. Reinstate the moratorium on residential utility shut-offs and evictions for all customers until the end of the COVID 19 health and economic crisis.
  2. Turn utilities back on for all residential customers with no fees, minimum balance, or back bill payment requirements.
  3. Require the utility to work with customer stakeholder groups to provide flexible Affordable Deferred Payment Arrangements with no restrictive maximum length or minimum monthly payment amounts. Utilities should continue and expand programs to waive late payment fees, eliminate external credit reporting, and provide relief from utility debt.
  4. Require utilities to provide data to governors, regulatory bodies, and social service organizations to create an unsafe-to-disconnect list of accounts including those with medical equipment, self-filed medical conditions, seniors, and children.
  5. Require utilities to fund a bill insert developed by regional social service organizations to ensure vulnerable customers can access assistance in their area, whether or not they have internet access or English language proficiency.
  6. Require utilities to propose affordability plans in cooperation with a working group of customer advocates and the Governor’s office by the end of the utility shut-off moratorium. These plans should address the need for arrearage relief, low income rates, better hot and cold weather protections, multi-year payment plans, on-bill financing, low-income weatherization, energy efficiency, and renewable energy programs that bring value to residential customers with the goal of reducing the number of households who cannot pay their bills long-term.

The original sign-on letter is below.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

An Open Letter To:
Evergy CEO Terry Bassham
Kansas City Board of Utilities (BPU) Board of Directors and General Manager
Honorable Laura Kelly, Governor of the State of Kansas
Honorable Michael Parson, Governor of the State of Missouri
Kansas Corporation Commission
Missouri Public Service Commission
All Kansas and Missouri Elected Officials in Evergy’s Service Territory

Tens of thousands of our Kansas and Missouri neighbors have had their power shut off for non-payment in the cold during a pandemic that has cost them their jobs. It’s our responsibility, and that of utilities like KCBPU and Evergy, which pride themselves on “putting people first,” to help these families in trouble. Kansas City is already one of the most energy burdened regions in the country. Not only do low income-folks pay more for energy than wealthy households in Kansas and Missouri, but Black households pay significantly more than white households. What amounts to trivial numbers in an Evergy rate case is the difference between families keeping food in the fridge, staying warm, and keeping their homes as the pandemic gets worse this winter.

Now is the time for utility executives to prove that they are good neighbors in our community. Voluntary moratoriums on disconnecting utility services expired months ago, and COVID-19 is spreading at a record pace. Even with the federal money being delivered to electric utilities to pay for late bills, tens of thousands of Kansans and Missourians have had their power disconnected. If the utilities won’t stop putting people in danger, then regulators and elected officials need to act and instruct them to institute a disconnect moratorium on behalf of their constituents.

Essential protections have been allowed to expire on an arbitrary timeline, even though coronavirus cases are still multiplying, and families are still struggling. Evergy’s 12-month payment plan and credit programs have helped, but have been insufficient to keep all of our vulnerable community members safe. The cold weather rules in Kansas and Missouri don’t stop utilities from aggressively cutting off their customers’ power as soon as it’s above freezing, nor compel the utilities to reconnect those previously disconnected. Kansas electric utilities can do better for our low-income neighbors and customers. Over the next few months, the Kansas Corporation Commission, the Missouri Public Service Commission and our elected leaders can work with Evergy to implement available federal and state temporary relief programs. While assistance programs such as LIHEAP and CARES funding are helping ease the burden, only a complete halt on utility disconnects will protect all Kansans and Missourians from the immediate harms of being without power in the midst of a pandemic. In the long term, utilities must lower bills for low-income customers, close coal plants to improve health and reduce risk of death from respiratory illnesses like COVID 19, and fully fund low-income energy efficiency programs that can reduce utility bills significantly.

As of November 12, Kansas had more than 112,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,200 deaths, while Missouri had nearly 240,000 cases and nearly 3,500 deaths. The pandemic has exposed racial and ethnic disparities: Black Kansans are almost 3 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than whites. Hispanics and Native Americans are dying of COVID-19 at almost double the rate of white Kansans. Black Missourians account for 19% of COVID-19 cases and 27% of deaths in the state, even though they only make up 12% of the population. Similarly, Hispanic/Latinos account for 10% of the state’s COVID-19 cases despite accounting for only 4% of the population. And systemic inequities mean that families of color are more likely to have power to their homes cut by utilities.

Access to lighting, electrical appliances, telecommunications services, heat and cooling, and electricity for medical equipment are critical at any time, but especially during a pandemic when families and students are required to shelter and learn at home.

To ensure that Kansans and Missourians are protected throughout the pandemic and able to recover, the undersigned strongly urge that Evergy, Governor Kelly, Governor Parson, the Kansas Corporation Commission, the Missouri Public Service Commission and all other elected officials in Evergy’s service territory in Kansas and Missouri work together to accomplish the following actions:

  1. Reinstate the moratorium on residential utility shut-offs and evictions for all customers until the end of the COVID 19 health and economic crisis.
  2. Turn utilities back on for all residential customers with no fees, minimum balance, or back bill payment requirements.
  3. Require the utility to work with customer stakeholder groups to provide flexible
    Affordable Deferred Payment Arrangements with no restrictive maximum length or minimum monthly payment amounts. Utilities should continue and expand programs to waive late payment fees, eliminate external credit reporting, and provide relief from utility debt.
  4. Require utilities to provide data to governors, regulatory bodies, and social service organizations to create an unsafe-to-disconnect list of accounts including those with medical equipment, self-filed medical conditions, seniors, and children.
  5. Require utilities to fund a bill insert developed by regional social service organizations to ensure vulnerable customers can access assistance in their area, whether or not they have internet access or English language proficiency.
  6. Require utilities to propose affordability plans in cooperation with a working group of customer advocates and the Governor’s office by the end of the utility shut-off moratorium. These plans should address the need for arrearage relief, low income rates, better hot and cold weather protections, multi-year payment plans, on-bill financing, low-income weatherization, energy efficiency, and renewable energy programs that bring value to residential customers with the goal of reducing the number of households who cannot pay their bills long-term.

Respectfully yours,
The undersigned organizations:

CleanAirNow
Climate + Energy Project
Community Health Council of Wyandotte County
Earthjustice
Groundwork NRG
KC Tenants
Kansas Appleseed
Kansas Interfaith Action
Kansas Poor People’s Campaign
Missouri Coalition for the Environment
Missouri Interfaith Power & Light
Mothers Out Front
Renew Missouri
Rent Zero Kansas
The Sierra Club
Sunrise Movement KC
WyCo Mutual Aid