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Examiner
  • I-Share program hit hard by scorching summer

  • As the temperatures cool off and winter draw closer, many might forget the passing of an extremely hot summer.


    Remember July? Temperatures were near or above 100 degrees for nearly the entire month. A 5 percent rate increase also took effect for Independence Power & Light customers on July 1.

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  • As the temperatures cool off and winter draw closer, many might forget the passing of an extremely hot summer.
    Remember July? Temperatures were near or above 100 degrees for nearly the entire month. A 5 percent rate increase also took effect for Independence Power & Light customers on July 1.
    Combined, the two factors left many customers – both those who live relatively comfortably and those on a fixed income – with the highest utility bills they’d ever seen.
    “I think a lot of people were that way,” said Doug Cowan, Community Services League’s chief development officer and acting chief executive officer. “It was just something they didn’t budget for. ... The irony of the situation is people who live in poverty, unfortunately, don’t usually live in the most energy-efficient house.”
    As a result, Community Services League’s and Independence Power & Light’s program, I-Share, took a significant hit.
    “At this point, we’re just kind of living month by month,” Cowan said of I-Share’s balance. “Because of the hot summer, we have plowed all of our resources into helping people now.”
    Each month, the back of an IPL bill asks if customers want to contribute to the I-Share program.
    Customers and businesses donate funds to I-Share, which go to the specially designated Truman Heartland Community Foundation fund. Churches contribute a majority of the donated funds, Cowan said.
    Independence Power & Light matches the funds dollar for dollar, so $3,000 in donations becomes $6,000 toward the I-Share program. Community Services League administers the program and receives monthly checks, which range from $3,000 to $6,000, Cowan said.
    The program began in the 1970s under CSL Executive Director Dorace Wilson. Until roughly three years ago, I-Share operated under a system in which customers stood in line for assistance on a first-come, first-served basis.
    “It really was not a good situation for anybody,” Cowan said of the long lines that stretched outside the doors of CSL’s headquarters, then at 300 W. Maple Ave. “For us, we had crowds of hundreds of people. It wasn’t as dignified for families to stand in line because most of them didn’t get help. It was just a sad picture.”
    CSL now manages I-Share through a lottery. For example, families in need of utility assistance in November came to CSL during October and put in their names for income qualification.
    On Nov. 1, the names were drawn for this month’s assistance. The amount covered through the I-Share program is reviewed case by case, Cowan said. Customers also are encouraged to pay part of the bill, in addition to receiving assistance.
    With delinquent bills, the turning off of utilities also is determined on a case-by-case basis, said Mary Kay Villegas-Alitz, IPL’s customer programs administrator. It’s possible that customers could slowly “chip away” at their bills through payment arrangements with the city’s utilities customer service.
    Page 2 of 2 - “That’s one of the nice things about having a city-owned utility,” Cowan said. “IPL has a great reputation about being flexible and working with its customers and its neighbors.”
    As the winter approaches, customers help to lower their bills by lowering their thermostats – even a degree or two helps with savings, Villegas-Alitz said – and leaving curtains open during the day on the sun-facing sides of the house or apartment for added warmth.
    CSL works to educate its clients into being smart consumers, Cowan said.
    “They have the control. It’s not a case where you are powerless against your utility bill,” he said. “It takes a lot of work... People can manage it – just to have that mentality of ‘I am an empowered consumer, and I am the one who controls what my utility bill is, not the utility company.’”

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