Press Release

Community groups call on KUB to end service shutoffs, provide affordable utilities to lower-income customers

Contacts:

Kendall Wimberley – Appalachian Voices, kendall@appvoices.org, 731-363-8359
Calvin Taylor Skinner, calvin.taylor.skinner@gmail.com, 865-214-7011

Today, racial, labor and environmental justice organizations and faith based groups launched a community campaign to urge the Knoxville Utilities Board to offer a program that would make utility bills affordable for low-income households.

The Knoxville Water and Energy for All Campaign is a community-wide effort to make utility services accessible and affordable to all and to end utility disconnections for customers with unaffordable bills, aligning solutions to lived experiences and human rights standards.

“Too many families, especially in black and brown communities, get disconnected from KUB utilities because they don’t have enough income to pay their bill,” said Bri Knisley, Tennessee Campaign Manager for Appalachian Voices. “Punishing households that can’t afford bills by disconnecting them is unjust, and it’s a problem that groups are mobilizing around across the country. Energy and Water access is a human right, and we need a solution to unaffordable bills and disconnections at KUB.”

Three independent researchers analyzed KUB disconnections and past-due accounts, using data shared by the utility. Some of their research findings include:

  • 23% of all Knoxville households are “utility burdened,” meaning that they pay more than 10% of their income on KUB bills
  • 21% of white households and 40% of Black households are utility burdened
  • Despite bill assistance, many low-income households remained past-due on their KUB accounts when disconnections re-started in October 2020
  • 24% of households in majority non-White census tracts were past due when the moratorium on disconnections was lifted in October 2020, while 11% of households in poor, majority White census tracts were past due.
  • Communities of color owed two-times more in past due accounts than white communities
  • 3,000 Knoxville homes were disconnected from water and energy from October 2020, when KUB lifted its disconnection moratorium, and February 2021

“Despite the dedicated efforts of community organizations and KUB staff, more than 3,000 households have been disconnected from power and water during the pandemic and thousands more continue to experience the burden of unaffordable utilities,” said Erin Rose of Three Cubed. “We know that this burden is not equally distributed across our communities. For example, our analysis shows that Knoxville census tracts with majority non-White populations have been experiencing disconnection rates 170% higher than majority White communities with above average poverty for Knoxville.”

The groups urged KUB to adopt a payment discount program that targets low-income households as defined by federal poverty guidelines. The program, called a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP), would reduce the utility bill for participating households to 10% or less of income. This 10% of income cap would meet the generally accepted national thresholds for energy and water affordability. The PIPP program would ensure that the bills of those living in poverty remain affordable regardless of future KUB rate hikes.

Rev. Calvin Taylor Skinner of Mt Zion Baptist Church, said: “We cannot afford to be asleep with the alarms sounding that we are in a state of emergency. This emergency is fueled by economic and racial inequities that our local government is ignoring. As good neighbors, we can no longer ignore the data that reveals the widening gap in utility shut offs impacting Black households. Energy insecurity and the threats of shutoffs have short-term and long-term effects on the physical and mental health of Black Knoxville, both in the individual and the collective. We must understand what impacts one part of our community, impacts everyone.

“As a faith leader, I am well aware of the moral obligation we have to ensure the wellbeing of all neighbors. PIPP is an approach that is proven to help alleviate a huge burden many Black and Brown households face. The power is with the people. The more we embrace this power, the more we will discover sustainable solutions to the challenges our residents face in Knoxville.

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Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.


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