Michigan Welfare Rights Organization
"You get what you are organized to take!"
February 2003 • Number 1
RESURRECTION MONDAY PICKETS TO CONTINUE AT WATER DEPT
AFTER 3 WEEKS OF PICKETING, THE DETROIT WATER DEPT. STILL REFUSES TO TURN ON WATER FOR ITS
POOR, DISABLED AND SENIOR CUSTOMERS!
For several weeks, the MWRO has attempted to negotiate a fair and humane resolution with the Detroit Water and Sewage Department over the more than 40,000 water shut-offs. We have met with representatives from the Water Department, City Council, Mayor’s Office, the Governor’s Office, and countless others—still we have no water!! The Water Dept. is not ashamed to tell us that another 8,400 homes are in shut-off status. It is a criminal act to disconnect service at almost 50,000 residences. What kind of people would commit such tyranny on the poor, on the elderly, and on the disabled? Thousands of families are without WATER because they can't afford to pay for it, while corporations are allowed to get behind for YEARS without threats or disconnection. If a poor family has water turned off, the children are taken and placed in foster care for MONTHS, even years. We are in the midst of a public health crisis! When poor people who work in low-wage service industry jobs cannot wash themselves at home, everyone is in jeopardy. When one-third of Detroit school children are living in homes without water, they are not ready and healthy to learn in their classrooms. Furthermore, this is not an isolated activity—this is an international crisis!
WE WILL MARCH FOR A 4TH WEEK ON MONDAY, FEB. 10 FROM 12-1PM
BRING A PAYMENT FOR YOUR WATER BILL
On Monday, February 10, we will continue our picket of the Detroit Water and Sewage Department with Sweetwater Alliance and other concerned citizens. We need everyone who has a water shut-off or water shut-off notice to come to 735 Randolph St. at 12 p.m. to picket with us, and bring whatever money you can afford to pay on your bill to get your water turned on. Everyone who is concerned about this crisis should join us! We must continue to put pressure on the Water Department to do the right thing and treat us with dignity. Water is a right and not a privilege!
MAKE CERTAIN THAT YOU STAY CONNECTED
ON THESE ISSUES
To get the latest information on the utility crisis (water, gas, electricity) and more, contact the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization:
Telephone: (313) 832-0618
Fax: (313) 832-1409
Photos courtesy of Sweetwater Alliance-Detroit
Sweetwater Alliance-Detroit (313) 410-4155 www.waterissweet.org
Fight for your rights!!
DTE ENERGY TURNS ON GAS & ELECTRICITY
When no one "noticed" that people were living in homes without lights and gas in Detroit because they couldn't afford high bills, we picketed in front of DTE ENERGY to let them know that it is wrong to turn off utilities during winter months. They responded to those "3" Friday marches and restored service to many city residents whose names we reported. This was a good step toward HUMANITY. We must continue to make people respond to the needs of the unemployed and poor.
On January 17, 2003, the MWRO received a call from DTE Energy informing us that they will restore gas and electric service to all low-income, disabled, and senior citizen customers whose utilities are shut-off. These persons should call DTE at (800) 545-8046 and tell them they were referred by Welfare Rights. DTE will follow this up by helping these persons make payment arrangements and finding funds to pay off your bill.
HOW THIS UTILITY CRISIS CAME ABOUT…
From 1995-96, Wayne County had 198,000 residents receiving cash assistance from what was then called the Dept. of Social Services (DSS). In 1996, President Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Bill and began a countdown of five years as the time for assistance from welfare. A component part of the Bill was "WORK FIRST." It mandated that recipients leave cash assistance and find work. Utility bills that these unemployed workers had over the years while they needed assistance were paid in part under a program called Vendor Pay. A $50 per month gas bill would garner a $20 payment from the Family Independence Agency (FIA, formerly the DSS), and that account was protected from shut-off if they enrolled in the Vendor Pay program. The $30 balance was listed but never addressed and never showed up as an arrearage on the recipient's bill. Month after month, these balances accumulated but these recipients had winter protection.
The parent secures a job and after two months is ineligible for cash assistance from FIA. In the third month on the job, Michcon [gas company] and Detroit Edison [electric company] sends out a congratulatory letter praising that mother for getting a job and becoming independent from welfare, and ask her to send in that total balance of the utility bill. The arrearage bill she sees is $1500 and, of course, she can't pay it.
In 2002, Wayne County had less than 30,000 cash assistance recipients remaining. On October 31 of that same year, the utility companies discontinued the entire Vendor Pay program and exposed all 30,000 to immediate light and gas interruptions. This is when our telephones at MWRO began to ring off the hook. We called hearings to better understand what the nature and depth of the problem was, but even we were not prepared to learn or hear the truth. To thwart suspicions about what poor people say, we contacted DTE Energy [after merger of Michcon and Detroit Edison] to ask exactly how many homes in DETROIT only were without lights and gas. We were told that 9,800 homes were already disconnected as of August 2002, and that number had grown since the discontinuance of Vendor Pay. We were also told that 20,000 homes were in shut-off status meaning that they were scheduled for shut-off within days. What else could we do but to picket DTE and expose this scandalous threat against life and community. All of Detroit stands in danger with every family trying to use a space heater. Every block is in peril while propane tanks have the potential to explode. Every community is in jeopardy while parents try to re-connect gas and electricity in an effort to keep their families alive. Some 75,000 households of unemployed persons in-between jobs, some on welfare, some temporary workers, some seasonal workers, ALL Detroiters, are living in unspeakable conditions so stressful and inhumane that we are contacting the United Nations and have begun to formulate formal requests for foreign aid.