The Social Development Commission’s (SDC) loss of a Milwaukee County contract to provide energy assistance services to low-income residents isn’t the only concern the anti-poverty agency’s CEO George Hinton has as he scrambles to keep the organization viable.
Hinton is also concerned about the way his agency lost its 30-year hold on the program for which it received $1.2 million yearly to help residents sign up for partial payments of utility bills and reconnection charges, fuel oil deliveries and costs of furnace repairs.
Hinton feels the democratic process of checks and balances was violated when Hector Colon, the director of Milwaukee County’s Department of Health used “emergency authority” to award 12-month energy assistance contracts to Community Advocates, Inc. and UMOS Inc.
Colon’s action overrides a recommendation by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors to extend SDC’s contract for six months even though the agency was not selected for renewal in a contract review process completed last April when Community Advocates and UMOS were selected.
“How does he (Colon) have the power to override the county board?” Hinton asked during a recent MCJ phone interview, adding there is no “emergency” as Colon stated to justify his action, calling the county health director’s claim a “fallacy.”
According to an earlier Journal Sentinel report, SDC tried to appeal the decision, but the appeal was denied and a subsequent review of the selection process concluded the contracts should be awarded to Community Advocates and UMOS.
Community Advocates will receive a reported $1.4 million to oversee a larger share of the central and northern half of the county while UMOS will be paid nearly $660,000 to serve much of the south side of the county outside the city of Milwaukee.
Hinton said his agency’s appeal of the earlier decision was about more than SDC keeping a program that was synonymous with the organization.
“It had a lot to do with the ‘process’ (used to select the agencies), and the lack of transparency in that process,” Hinton said.
During an appearance on Eric Von’s morning show on WNOV last week, Hinton and SDC Board member Gerard Randall noted there were no hearings, focus groups or other processes conducted by the County Department of Health to see what would be the best way to develop a plan to serve the community’s energy assistance needs.
The SDC head believes Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele had a hand in Colon’s decision. On WNOV, Hinton and Randall questioned the county executive’s role in awarding the contracts to Community Advocates and UMOS despite the board’s recommendation of SDC, especially given its long history of providing energy assistance to the community.
Hinton found it funny that Abele spoke of there being ‘politics’ in the selection process (and the need to remove it to guarantee fairness). Yet ‘politics’ is exactly what Hinton felt was being used against the agency as it contested the process.
Hinton and Randall criticized Abele for making the decision without working with the board, saying the county executive displayed arrogance and a disregard for the process.
“This is not about Community Advocates or UMOS. They do good work,” Hinton said during the radio interview. (But) we should be working together—all of us—to serve the community.”
When they shared the previous contract, SDC provided services to 75 to 76 percent of the community. Community Advocates provided services to 20 percent.
During his MCJ interview, Hinton credited county board members—especially Board Supervisors Martin Weddle and Khalif Rainey—for seeing the same thing the agency saw: An organization the community knew and trusted that was a stable influence in the community. “That’s why they voted the way they did,” said Hinton. “If we didn’t have a case, it (the selection process) would have been over long ago.”
Hinton said SDC has not been paid by the county since May for the energy assistance work they have done. He said approximately $200,000 is owed to them.
With SDC’s current contract ending Sept. 30, Colon reportedly used the emergency authority in order to guarantee the contractors implementing the program (Community Advocates and UMOS) had the needed time to be in place and properly promote the service for the upcoming winter heating season.
In a letter to Abele and County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr., Colon explained why he used the emergency authority:
“Not having the department’s plan in place by Aug. 1, 2015, risks widespread confusion among eligible county residents and endangers approximately 20,000 elderly, frail or disabled individuals scheduled to be served in the early application process in August and September of this year.”
The Wisconsin Department of Administration also requires the county to provide a plan of services for a full year.
But Hinton scoffed at the rationale Colon used, noting the process Community Advocates and UMOS will use to service energy assistance applicants will be on an “appointment only” basis, not the “first come-first served” model used by SDC.
“There is no advocacy of need in the new model,” Hinton said in the radio interview. Using an analogy of a medical emergency, the SDC CEO said a sick person needing medical attention immediately doesn’t want to hear the next opening to see a doctor is two weeks away.
“That’s my fear. People freezing because Community Advocates and UMOS don’t have an immediate slot to see applicants. As to the complaints by the agency’s critics of long lines of assistance applicants at SDC, Hinton suggested WE Energies stop flooding the community with service termination notices to residents in need.
“It’s impossible to meet that need; there is more demand then supply of labor at one given time,” Hinton said.
Hinton stressed SDC will continue to service energy assistance applicants until the contract ends next month.
Where to get energy assistance…
WE Energies Winter Moratorium
WE Energies cannot shut off your utility service from Nov. 1 – April 15.
If you or someone you know is struggling to pay their We Energies bill, encourage them to contact us at 800-842-4565. Also visit we-energies.com to learn about available resources, including:
Energy Assistance – locations, hours, information customers need to provide
Company programs for low-income customers – Early Identification program and Low Income Pilot
Reducing energy costs – tips, brochures, energy saving kits
Customers have the option to self-serve or speak with a representative:
Automated phone assistance – For the most flexible payment plan options and to avoid wait times, call 800-842-4565. The system is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and gives options for down payments and length of time to pay bills.
Online – Visit we-energies.com > Residential > Payment assistance for options. Plus, Wisconsin residents who can pay their current bill now and remaining balance within three months, can use WE Energies online Personal Payment Plan.
Phone – Speak to a representative at 800-842-4565 weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.–WE Energies
UMOS Home Energy Assistance
The mission of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is to assist low-income households, particularly those with the lowest incomes that pay a high proportion of household income for home energy, primarily in meeting their immediate home energy needs.
UMOS, through The Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP) provides assistance for heating costs, electric costs, and energy-crisis situations to residents of Kenosha County, Wisconsin. During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, UMOS staff assisted 7,071 residents with $3,132,049 in energy assistance.
WHEAP assistance is a one-time payment during the heating season (October 1 – May 15). The funding pays a portion of the heating costs but the payment is not intended to cover the entire cost of heating a residence. The amount of the heating assistance benefit varies depending on a variety of factors, including the household’s size, income, and heating costs.
For more information, call 414-389-6000
Community Advocates – Energy Assistance
Community Advocates partners with Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin to provide assistance for heating costs, electricity costs, and energy crisis situations. The assistance is a one-time payment during the heating season (October 1-May 15). The funding pays a portion of the heating costs, but the payment is not intended to cover the entire cost of heating a residence. The amount of the energy assistance benefit varies depending on a variety of factors, including the household’s size, income, and energy costs. In most cases the energy assistance benefit is paid directly to the household energy supplier. Call 414-270-6954 or visit communityadvocates.net