Thursday, May 30, 2013

IBEW Lends a Hand to Customer in Need

The Commercial Appeal, Channel 5 and Channel 3 did stories yesterday about an 86-year-old customer whose large balance was paid through a donation made by IBEW's Jonnie Dawson Charitable Foundation. Channel 3's Candace McCowan interview MLGW President and CEO Jerry Collins Jr. for their story. Channel 5 also ran a story, as did the Commercial Appeal.

Following are highlights:

The customer, Velma Massey, was found to have an unusually high balance in early 2012. Upon investigating, MLGW discovered she had a significant water leak on her side of the meter.

MLGW enrolled her in the On Track program at this time in order to allow her to continue her utility services and get her water leak fixed.

Unfortunately, the water leak continued to increase her balance and MLGW later detected a gas leak that also contributed to her high bills.

MLGW representatives tried to assist by obtaining assistance from organizations such as a MIFA and CSA,
MLGW was able to find a plumber to fix the water leak at no cost to her.

The customer was making significant payments, but the additional cost of the water leak, and the subsequent gas leak greatly added to her balance.

Because Ms. Massey was subject to cut-off due to removal from the On Track program, MLGW contacted IBEW about the situation, and the union paid Ms. Massey's bill in full.

She is now current.

Channel 5: Group pays woman's $4,000 MLGW bill

Posted: May 29, 2013 1:40 PM CST Updated: May 29, 2013 1:52 PM CST
By Justin Hanson

MEMPHIS, TN -(WMC-TV) - Velma Massey has lived in her North Memphis home since the 1960s. Over the past few months, she accumulated an MLGW bill over $4,000.

Now one Memphis group is paying it forward and paying her bill.

Massey was speechless Wednesday morning.

"Words can't express how glad I am for y'all. I'd had to pack up and leave. I couldn't stay here with no utilities on," said Massey.

Massey could not say thank you enough to members of IBEW Local 1288, the local electric workers union.

Thanks to funds from the union's charitable foundation, members presented Massey with a check for more than $4,000 to pay her MLGW bill.

"We though it was a dire situation that we needed to take action immediately because they were getting ready to cut it off, put her on the cut off list," said Rick Thompson with IBEW Local 1288.

Massey said the bill kept getting higher over the past few months.

She was aware she had a water leak, and was recently told about a gas leak.

The water leak has been fixed.

Massey lives on a fixed income and said she has been paying as much as she could on her bill.

"Every month, from four to five hundred dollars, that's the best I could do. I got receipts to show for it," said Massey.

The local electric workers union also reaches out to help others who need other assistance.

Channel 3: Union Pays Elderly Residents Over $4,000 Bill

Posted on: 11:39 pm, May 29, 2013, by Candace McCowan

(Memphis) A 87 year-old Memphis woman was the recipient of a over $4,000 check Wednesday.
Velma Massey had received a cut-off notice from MLGW this month because of a outstanding $4,251.66 bill.

“Well I had a water leak and then everybody knows my gas was $300 per month that’s just entirely too much. Something is wrong somewhere,” said Massey.

“She made substantial payments every month but her water leak was beyond what she could make payments on,” said MLGW CEO Jerry Collins.

On top of the water leak, Massey had a gas leak. When IBEW Local 1288 heard Massey’s story, they stepped in a big way and paid the bill in full.

“Our members dues are taken out of our members check every two weeks to go to this foundation to take care of situations like this,” said Rick Thompson with IBEW 1288.

“She may have gone without utilities which would’ve been a tragedy,” said Thompson.

Collins said there were 4 other MLGW customers with outstanding bills over $4,000.

“In all 4 of those cases there is illness involved of a substantial nature,” said Collins.

Massey was prepared to pack up and leave the house she has been in since the 1960s, but is thankful she can stay.

“I wish I could hug them all. I’m crying but these are tears of joy,” said Massey.

Commercial Appeal: Memphis woman's utility bill paid off by union charity

By L. Taylor Smith

Originally published 06:33 p.m., May 29, 2013
Updated 12:33 a.m., May 30, 2013

Velma Massey has been living by herself in her North Memphis home since her daughter passed away in December. She was left alone to pay her steadily rising utility bill, and although she was paying between $240 and $500 a month, she could barely make a dent in the inflating charge. On Wednesday, the IBEW-Jonnie Dawson Charitable Foundation gave her a check to pay the $4,251.68 bill.

Massey, 87, incurred the large bill because of a water pipe and a gas line leak. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division workers noticed the spike in her water bill and repaired the leak, but the gas leak wasn’t discovered until recently.

“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t smell anything,” Massey said. “During the winter, I was using electrical heaters, so it shouldn’t have been that high.”

Once the water leak was discovered, Massey was enrolled in the On Track program offered through MLGW.

Normally, customers who haven’t paid their bills are sent a letter warning them that their utilities will be cut off after eight days; customers with high risk credit are sent letters when they owe $199 or more, and customers with good credit when they owe $399.

MLGW issues between 900 and 1,200 cut off orders a day. While approximately 25 percent of customers pay their bills immediately, another 70 percent are cut off and reconnected within the week. The other 5 percent don’t reconnect.

Because Massey was enrolled in the On Track program, she was not at risk for being cut off as long as she followed the requirements of the program but she still found it difficult to pay off her debt with her fixed income. As her bill became unmanageable, she was at risk to be removed from the program after a year of enrollment.

The exorbitant bill on the 1,748-square-foot house caught the attention of Rick Thompson, business manager of the IBEW-Jonnie Dawson Charitable Foundation. Normally, the foundation doesn’t pay customers’ bills, Thompson said, but Massey’s case stood out.

“We thought her situation was a dire need,” Thompson said. “When I looked at her age and saw that she’s been trying to pay, we decided to step in to help.”

And if the foundation hadn’t stepped in, Massey said she would have had to leave the home she has occupied for over four decades.

“I couldn’t have stayed here without any utilities,” Massey said. “I would have had to pack up and leave.”

The IBEW Local 1288, the union for MLGW employees, created a nonprofit organization in 2010.

Employees have the option to donate a portion of their paychecks to the foundation. In the two years it has operated, the group has donated approximately $400,000 to charities across the city, including Le Bonheur’s Children Hospital, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.

“Some employees donate up to $180 a month to help out,” Thompson said. “We’re not just here to help ourselves, we’re here to help our community.”

Anyone who wants to donate to the IBEW-Jonnie Dawson Charitable Foundation can send a check to their headquarters at 4000 Clearpool Circle, Memphis, Tenn., 38118.

For more information about the foundation, call (901) 363-1563.

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