Letters to the Editor

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UTILITIES: Why charge high fee to low-income?

Letter by Lenora Peyton, Tacoma on May 11, 2010 at 5:58 pm with 43 Comments »
May 11, 2010 5:58 pm

Recently I moved from one Tacoma address to another and figured a simple call to transfer my utilities service was all I would need to do. Turns out, I am required to pay a $200 deposit because of my “unsatisfactory” payment history.

I live on approximately $600 a month, and as such have not been able to pay my account off each month. Because of my low income status, I am being singled out to pay an additional fee to switch the service, a fee that is literally one third of my monthly earnings.

Tacoma Power is not my only bill. I also must pay rent, as do most people. However, they seem to have forgotten this tiny piece of information.

Where is the sense in charging a low- income person who cannot pay their bill every month one third of their gross monthly income to a deposit? How is one expected to pay the actual bill, after the deposit?

Lucky me, I can live on beans and rice for a month, for it looks as if that’s all I can afford. Thanks, TPU, for pushing me further into debt.

I demand a logical explanation.

Leave a comment Comments → 43
  1. Lenora, I sympathize for you, have you thought of asking for assistance from the utility? There are many people like you having trouble paying their bills. Obama will take care of it, just give him some time. He has a stash available to pay for peoples cars, homes and other bills. In the mean time, I recommend that you take advantage of the many social programs that are available such as food banks etc. Good luck!

  2. LuckyCharm says:

    Food banks aren’t “social programs,” frosty — they are charities.

  3. the3rdpigshouse says:

    Lenora, I didn’t read anything that said you are handicapped or incapable of working – find a second job if necessary – join the military and receive an education & training – do something for yourself to better yourself!!

  4. LuckyCharm says:

    3PH, I thought people weren’t supposed to join the military solely for the education & training.

  5. edasterisk says:

    some people are subject to a late fee(billed) after two months and some people are subject to a late fee(billed) one month.whats the factors….. .redlines

  6. mattersnot1 says:

    Utility charges are completely out of line. Not only do they charge for actual service usage, but they also charge a customer service fee that in the case of water usage is more than the actual service fee.
    TPU isn’t hurting for money by a long shot. They’re just plain greedy!

  7. witchiwoman says:

    I don’t believe I’m agreeing with mattersnot, but I actually am on this one. And you ought to see Puget Sound Energy’s bills if you think yours are high. OMG. I REALLY want a roof top wind turbine that I can afford, and a solar panel too. I would LOVE to be able to produce my own power and tell PSE to kiss my patootie!!

  8. witchiwoman says:

    And Lenora, I completely sympathize with you on having to make do on a very small fixed income. It’s not fun to live that way.

  9. tree_guy says:

    Lenora, If the utility couldn’t get these deposits and high utility payments including monthly “service fees” they couldn’t afford to pay garbage men $70,000.00 per year.

  10. Lenora- Contact Obama immediately – he will pay all your bills with my money.

  11. Novelist3 says:

    When I first graduated from college, I lived off $600 a month.

    I did it by being wise with my finances- I got a modest studio apartment, without cable, only went out to eat every week or so.

    And I certainly didn’t whine about it.

    Yeah, I have no sympathy for “Lenore”. It’s called responsibility, Lenore. Learn it and you won’t get those bills racking up. Can’t do it on your own? Get a roommate. Classifieds are full of em. That’ll take the cost of a two bedroom down to about $275 a month if you live in The SandMan or Alladin apartments.

    That’s the whole problem with people in the US today. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, living within their means and being adults, they blame everyone else. It’s TPU’s fault that Lenore didn’t pay the bill she agreed upon when she signed up for service. It’s government’s fault. It’s everyone’s fault but her own.

  12. fatuous says:

    “Food banks aren’t “social programs,” frosty — they are charities.”

    Actually, they are a social program. They are programs funded by individuals, corporations and governments that meet a social need.

  13. LuckyCharm says:

    Since I seem to be on a streak this morning, let me say that TPU also slapped me with extra fees for the same reason when I returned from Iraq, even though I had notified them (and that’s its own maddening story) prior to my deployment that my mail service might be spotty and that I’d do my best to keep up on payments, but please don’t shut off my service while I’m gone and I promised to settle up fully once I’m back if I had missed anything. I had been a loyal, prompt-paying customer for years, and I thought they could surely make allowances under the circumstances. Sure enough, much of my mail never reached me at all, and I got back to a musty apartment and a refrigerator that looked like a petri dish. And then they wanted to slap on all these “late” and “reconnect” fees. Finally I was able to reach someone with the authority to reverse those charges. Talk about adding insult to injury….

  14. Pat_riot says:

    The money TPU receives for the services they provide pays for a majority of the city of Tacoma’s expenditures, in essence keeping taxes low. Also, TPU is really one of the cheapest utilities in the state by the way, you should feel lucky for living within they’re service area. Although I empathize with you, I don’t believe any company should be forced to give breaks to low income people. If you’re in need of assistance there are many charity programs to help people in need.. your church is a good place to start! Though I’m sure the utility would work with you if you called and explained your circumstances. Of course, $600 a month is $3.75 an hour working a full time schedule.. maybe you should get a job at McDonalds and triple your income.

  15. fatuous says:

    Well Lenore you can put your 600 bucks a month income into this web site’s box and you will find that you are the 835,128,870 richest person in the world.

    That puts you in the top 13.91% richest people in the world. Not bad.

    In America, even a poor person is rich.


  16. “On a streak”… ? You were in Iraq???

  17. Roncella says:

    News Flash-John Kerry served in Viet Nam.
    News Flash-LuckyCHarm Served in Iraq.

    Lenora, Your letter is a sad example where our society is headed. The Liberal/Progressives are succeeding in making more and more citizens dependent on Government Assistance. More folks are receiving benefits than are paying taxes.

    A very intelligent and far sighted gentleman name Thomas Jefferson had some very good advice for everyone,

    ” The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who are not “. So True.

  18. dbreneman says:

    “Because of my low income status, I am being singled out to pay an additional fee to switch the service, a fee that is literally one third of my monthly earnings.”

    No, it’s because of your DEADBEAT status that you are being singled out to pay an additional fee. But buck up. Maybe now that health care is a “right”, utility service will soon follow.

  19. LuckyCharm says:

    It’s so heartwarming to see the way patriotic Americans rush to rally behind one of their own who has fallen on hard times… Has anybody bothered to wonder what caused this lady’s predicament? Is she 75 years old and subsisting on SS? Did a check get held up due to human or computer error? Was she suddenly widowed and unaccustomed to handling the family finances? Did someone tap into her electrical lines, unexpectedly inflating her bill? Was she scammed by a relative or a stranger? No, none of these possibilities even occurs to anybody, because in your universe, there are two kinds of people: well-off, successful, decent ones, or lazy, irresponsible deadbeats. Could you possibly be any more narrow-minded?

    Also, keep in mind that Ms. Peyton isn’t asking for a handout or even sympathy — only that TPU act in its own best interests by waiving a fee that’s clearly beyond her means. What’s this fee supposed to represent, anyway? A deposit? Interest? Or just plain and simple punishment for falling behind, possibly due to reasons beyond her control? Would they be any better off if she moved under a bridge and burned trash for heat?

    A very wise and far-sighted man once said, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I sure hope that when you find yourself in similar circumstances, someone will extend the same compassion to you.

  20. No Cheryl (were you in the Army?), it’s much simpler than that… we have created so many generations of lazy, entitlement minded victims that it’s just difficult to figure out which ones are legit.

    “Was she scammed by a relative or a stranger?” … or a politician that promised all kinds of free stuff paid for by someone else?


    “No, none of these possibilities even occurs to anybody, because in your universe…”

    beerBoy wrote on 04/24/2010 06:06:36 AM:

    Someone who thinks he knows how others think is a fool.

  21. My suggestion Lenora is to not submit letters like yours to this paper. When one does it only brings out the nutcases like hyenas to a disabled antelope. In the wild hyenas are appropriate. In human nature their counterpart is an opprobrium of significant magnitude.
    We mostly dismiss them and their ideas as useless.

  22. the3rdpigshouse says:

    Lenora – I think “OH-Bummer” still has some of his “stash” unless he gave it all to ACORN and his marxist buddies!!!

  23. Roncella says:

    Publico, I have a good suggestion for both you and LuckyCharm. Take out your checkbook both of you, and write Lenora a big check to cover what ever shortfalls she is experiencing, and send it to the TNT, they could pass it on to Lenora, remember to be very gererous.

  24. mdchristia says:

    Oh jeez, here’s a clever solution. Pay your bills on time and you won’t have these problems. I’ll admit, I’ve gotten behind before, but I definitely wouldn’t be writing a letter to The News Tribune complaining. Go get another job. I have three, you want one of mine?

  25. LuckyCharm, You were in Iraq? That’s weird, I’ve deployed overseas a total of six times and never had a problem, I just paid my bills like everyone else. It’s a strange world we live in huh? You can slice it any way you like if you want to split hairs, I call a Food bank a social program, you can call it a charity if you like.

  26. Publico, I hope for Lenora’s sake that you and LuckyCharm take Roncella’s recommendation and open your wallet and pay her bills. That will surely help you sleep better tonight.

  27. As Lenora has been such a bloody good meal for the hyenas, they should also sleep well tonight.

  28. LuckyCharm says:

    Again, to all the hyenas here (the image that actually came to my mind earlier today was some kind of cannibalistic beast, but I couldn’t think of one that savage): Paying bills is one thing. Yes, one should pay for the products one uses, but sometimes unexpected circumstances occur that make it difficult. Obviously Ms. Peyton had managed to catch up at the time she moved, or she wouldn’t have assumed a “simple phone call” was all it would take. Is TPU now attempting to exact vengeance for one or two late payments in the past? If so, they are clearly acting against their own interests, because if Ms. Peyton cannot afford the extra fee on top of all her other bills, she will simply not be able to set up service. Thus, TPU is out not only the $200 penalty, but any future revenue it might have gotten from her.

    And what is the basis for this penalty? Is it a deposit, refundable after a specified period of timely payments? Does it represent interest on past due amounts? (HIGHLY unlikely….) Or is it just an arbitrary sum designed to encourage people to pay their bills on time? FWIW, I don’t know of anybody who would willingly court all this heartache and trouble by routinely procrastinating on their utility payments. Personally, I’ve made mine failsafe by setting up an autopay account.

    At any rate, is it reasonable to expect someone to take on an extra job to raise a $200 fee that really doesn’t recoup any cost to the utility, but is levied as pure punishment? Or to snidely suggest that other citizens pony up the cost, which would only encourage TPU to continue gouging customers whenever possible, even if anybody would do it?

    I admire Lenora’s courage, myself, in going public with an issue like this in a backwater town like Tacoma, exposing herself to ridicule and calumny while exposing bureaucratic greed right here in our backyard.

    And frosty, perhaps you were actually getting your mail when you deployed, or had someone back home making payments on your behalf, or set up some sort of plan. None of that was true in my case. I was told I’d be gone a few months at the most; nobody had power of attorney to access my accounts or pay my bills; my mail oftentimes didn’t reach me. You can gloat all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that TPU tried to gouge me too, after assuring me that all would be taken care of.

    And now that you’ve got me on the subject, I might as well tell THAT story. Given 3 days to pack and report to Ft. Dix, I frantically contacted my utilities, landlord, creditors, made arrangements to store my car, and all the other things one would have to do if suddenly leaving the country for an indefinite period of time. Most of the stuff I needed to do, I could do online, but TPU didn’t have that system at the time, so I called. And got a recording, directing me to other recordings. So I called a department where I knew I’d get a live person, and said I knew this was the wrong department, but I urgently needed to speak to a manager in Billing. She transferred me to “Tom,” who began by asking why he should talk to me ahead of the other 40 callers waiting in the queue. I lost it. FIRST of all, I told him, you wouldn’t have 40 other people on hold if you just had an online system whereby customers could make billing inquiries. SECOND, I was a longtime customer with an impeccable payment history, who was calling to make sure they continued to get paid in my absence. And THIRD, I didn’t even have to be doing this — the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act would have covered me if I had not taken the responsible step of notifying them and trying to work something out! “Tom” grudgingly assured me that my service wouldn’t be cut off — and then they wound up cutting it off anyway, and charging me a huge fee to hook it back up before I got somebody there to go back through my record, read the notes, and reverse the charges.

    And there are self-professed patriots who actually defend this type of behavior on the part of government bureaucrats? Wow — the same people who claim to want less gov’t meddling in their lives???

  29. You were in the military Cheryl? Kooky… you had no contigency plan for the possibility you may be deployed… with little notice ??? How inconsiderate of the “man”…

    Personally, I didn’t care much for Ft. Dix… but then again, this isn’t really about ME.

  30. LuckyCharm says:

    Get real, jim. You can’t make a contingency plan for something of which you know no details: “As an Army Reservist, there is a small chance that someday I will be suddenly called to a far-flung country on earth for an indefinite length of time. In that event, I would like you to be aware that my mail delivery could be disrupted and I wouldn’t be able to pay my bill on time. I might not get the chance to notify you beforehand. Will this be cool? No penalties, late fees, service shutoff?”

    They’d laugh in your face and tell you to come back when you know something.

  31. beerBoy says:

    ij – quoting me on a thread that I haven’t commented upon…..that somehow seems like a breach of etiquette……I should ask Miss Manners about that.

  32. beerBoy says:

    A deposit is not a fee

    You are not being singled out for your low-income status, rather, it is your new resident status and lack of history with the utility.

    I have moved many times and paid the deposit many times. Some utilities (in California) were required by law to pay interest on the money they held so that their service wasn’t contingent upon the customers providing interest-free loans.

  33. Ah!! you answered at least one of my concerns LuckyCharm, so you are a reservist? I had assumed from some of your past comments that you were Regular army. As for TPU cutting off your power and later penalizing you, I’ve learned over the years that “attitude” plays a huge role in the kind of service you get. You stated that you ” lost it” while speaking with “Tom” at TPU. It’s amazing how easy it is to “misplace” a record or document when someone rubs a person the wrong way isn’t it? Perhaps a little humility once in awhile would help?

  34. Great comment BeerBoy-yeah, I just said that.
    It’s a guarantee on her skipping out on her bill, the possibility as evidenced by her own admission of her payment history. Feel bad for you-there are plenty of sources for help out there. Go help yourself-It’s still allowed for the time being. Quick, before Obama or Gregoire decide that electrical services need to be paid for by people making over xxxx,xxxx.00 per year. Utility Redistribution Plan, comrade.

  35. Not sure what your complaint is B. It’s your quote so I credited you. It’s quite appropriate since Cheryl was making assumptions about what others thought…

  36. When did you get the call Cheryl?
    I know more than a few reservists that were called and not one was blind sided as you imply you were.

    You did get it straightened out, no?

  37. You stated that you ” lost it”…

    Speaks volumes…

  38. One more… what did you do about care for your dog Cheryl???

  39. LuckyCharm says:

    The letter writer says that the $200 was required because of her payment history. When I moved from one Tacoma address to another, I wasn’t asked for a deposit — they simply switched off the old account and switched on the new one.

    Thanks for your keen interest, jim — I was called in Jan 2003, and I didn’t have a dog then. And, at that time, since the war hadn’t even been declared yet, we weren’t told where we’d be going or for how long. I doubt they even knew for sure themselves.

    When an entire unit mobilizes together, of course they know ahead of time that they’ll be going, so they can complete any additional training, procure needed equipment, etc. When a Reservist is cross-leveled at the last minute because said unit is suddenly discovered not to have enough warm bodies to deploy, the notice can be much shorter. They try to aim for 30 days, I hear, but sometimes they don’t make it.

  40. Thanks Cheryl.

    I am interested in your statement about war being declared. See, I recall there being a war to liberate Kuwait. The one ended with a ceasefire agreement … that Saddam violated thereby nullifying the agreement resulting a resumption of the war.

    I know, I’m nit picking… but it does help paint a picture…

  41. LuckyCharm says:

    jim, you’re talking about a completely different war. Was our stated justification for invading Iraq in 2003 the violation of a cease-fire?

  42. beerBoy says:

    ij – not a complaint….just a comment…..cuz I am used to you quoting me to directly contradict something I just wrote.

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