LORAIN, Ohio — An 81-year-old woman from Lorain is desperate after a myriad of circumstances, including the pandemic, finds her very behind on her electric bills. Imagine going to your mailbox and seeing an $11,000 bill. She’s been struggling for a while then the pandemic meant lights out for her and her finances.
“I just went by the wayside. I feel awful about it," said Marianne Vaughn.
You see, her husband was ill with COPD and died in January 2019.
“I try to tell myself to think positive,” Vaughn said, though, admitting it’s very tough to do that.
MANY MONEY PROBLEMS HIT
Instead of two social security checks, she now gets one. Bills kept coming in. She said she tried a couple of payments on her electric bills, but it became too much. And the hits kept coming.
“I worked up until the pandemic came,” said Vaughn. “I worked at a beauty shop.”
The pandemic forced her employer to close. That left even less money coming in for Vaughn. She said she called Ohio Edison about the mounting bills. They told her to contact the HEAP and PIP programs that help with utilities, but during the health crisis it was more than rough.
“(The programs kept telling me) call back tomorrow. Call back later we can only take so many bookings. Blah, blah, blah. The offices were closed,” explained Vaughn.
SON: 'IT HURT ME TO SEE HER HURT'
“There’s no way she could afford $11,000,” said her son Bobby Vaughn, 44, from Lorain.
He told us he didn’t realize the bills had gotten so large. “It hurt me to see her hurt. And there’s only so much I can do as far as paying on the bills, too,” Bobby said.
Ohio Edison sent warnings about an upcoming shutoff. Last Thursday, it happened.
“I literally I sat and I cried downstairs because my mom shouldn’t have to go through this,” Bobby told us.
SCAMMER STOLE HER MONEY
And if that wasn’t bad enough, a guy claiming to be from Ohio Edison knocked on her door and said he could turn her electricity back on for $700. Bobby wasn’t there when she paid the money. “(She had) $500 that someone was nice enough to give her to put on the bill. And $200 I had given her,” said Bobby.
“So, the guy went (to) the meter over there and then he left,” said Marianne.
The man was a scammer. Then, another hit to the gut because of that scam. “There was a fee of $172.54 which was a tampering fee, which she didn’t tamper,” said Bobby.
OHIO EDISON RESPONSE
We contacted Ohio Edison. It sent us a statement saying in part, “The last thing we want to do is disconnect a customer’s electric service…the pandemic certainly contributed to it because we suspended service disconnections from March 2020 to October of 2020…” (See full statement below)
Marianne with no job, a smaller income, agencies not there to help, she like a lot of people fell through the pandemic cracks. “I just don’t think people realize it’s not just her,” said Bobby with a quiver in his voice. “There’s hundreds of people in the Cleveland area right now that are struggling just like this!”
COULD SHE REALLY OWE THAT MUCH?
We examined her bills and for her 900 square foot home, Marianne would have had to average nearly $290 per month for electricity. Ohio Edison claims the $11,000 bill is accurate. “(I’m praying) to God, which I do every day,” said Marianne with a big sigh. “I don’t know what else to do.”
She got a doctor’s note which keeps the power on for another few weeks but if nothing happens with the payments, her electricity will be turned off again.
Ohio Edison Statement:
"The last thing we want to do is disconnect a customer’s electric service. Due to health and safety concerns, there are cases where we cannot legally disconnect a customer with a past-due balance when they start falling behind on their account. Our customers can explore a wide variety of options to maintain their electric service during financial hardship, including manageable payment arrangements and needs-based assistance programs. We encourage them to visit www.firstenergycorp.com/billassist or contact us at 800-589-3101 for more information on these programs.
Unfortunately, I can’t provide the details as to why this customer’s bill got so high. However, the pandemic certainly contributed to it because we suspended service disconnections from March 2020 to October 2020 to give customers faced with temporary financial hardship the opportunity to get back on their feet. We continued to send disconnection notices to non-paying customers during the pandemic to make them aware of the status of their account once we resumed disconnection in October 2020.
Our customers are only charged for the amount of energy they use, which is registered on their meter. I believe her meter was swapped out with a new smart meter, which we are installing across Ohio.
Upon request, we’ll test any meter suspected of not registering properly. The meter test will be conducted within 30 business days and a customer my be present at the test if they choose.”