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How many lightbulbs does it take for DWP to screw over a special needs family?

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With a special needs child in the family, our finances are a mess. I was laid off early in my pregnancy (with twins) and after the birth(s) I was unable to work for five years. We are luckier than many families, and just as I was laid off my husband was hired full-time. Budgeting would have been easier with two incomes, but with a toddler and infant twins – not to mention learning how to work a breathing monitor, managing medications and therapy sessions plus doctors and specialists visits I had more than a full-time job on my hands already. Medical bills and insurance loopholes did a number on our finances. I will spare you the boring details, but it has been a long, slow, steady climb towards getting out of debt.

One month while doing the bills I noticed that our utility bill had dropped. I mentioned it to hubby, we did a little happy dance, and we went on with our lives. Then about a year later I got a HUGE bill from DWP. I called to ask about it….and waited on hold for 45 minutes. I was disconnected. I called back – another 45 minute wait, and then again I was cut off. I think they have an auto timer on their hold line, or maybe it’s my phone that has the auto-timer. I started juggling between two phones to try to avoid the cut-off if it was on my end. No such luck. And now it had been three hours and I am a very angry native New Yorker.

Eventually I got through to a human who explained that there was some new system being put into place so I hadn’t been billed for electricity for a year, and now they wanted a year’s worth of payment or we would be disconnected. Soon.

We certainly didn’t have that kind of money lying around, and there were already nasty bill collectors calling day and night. Thankfully our child does not rely on medical equipment, so we don’t qualify for any special billing rate. We make too much money to get a low income rate – although we don’t make enough money to pay all our bills and get out of debt. We are stuck in the middle, getting no assistance – no school lunch, no food stamps, no transportation assistance, no medical care break…all we get is a bit of respite care from the Regional Center. The school district has even cut out my child’s physical therapy, which she needs desperately for her future but not so much for school. So frustrating!!

We worked out a payment arrangement with the DWP pirates, but we were unable to make those payments (car trouble, another medical bill, whi can keep track?) so we were kicked off of it. Another disconnect notice arrived. More phone juggling, ridiculous hold times and cut-offs. Desperate to talk to someone., I finally went down to a payment office for more waiting, on a line that stretched down the block and then finally out of the blazing summer valley heat into the air conditioned office for yet another long line. When I finally got to the window I was told that since I had been on a payment plan and broken it that the office workers couldn’t help me. I got a number to call and was turned away, furious at all the wasted time and stress this was causing me. Sure, you might think that it was my fault since I did owe them the money but as a family barely keeping our heads above water. We were willing to work with them to pay - but their terms were out of our reach.

I started a new job with more hours in the hopes of improving our situation. It was a huge adjustment, especially for my special needs child, but we pulled together as a family and made it work. We scraped up half of the bill, which kept them from shutting off our services. Of course we were also getting current bills so it seemed like although we were paying them huge amounts the bills kept coming, and kept growing. I started to wonder about installing a solar system. I checked my inventory of candles and flashlights and wondered if living for a few weeks without electricity could be a learning experience for my kids.
The final bill was due on the 25th of last month. Seems that while this kind of crisis is happening you should be exempt from other things, but car insurance and DMV renewal rolls around no matter what else is happening in your budget. And my kids keep expecting to eat. Then another disconnect notice arrived, on the 18th, demanding payment by the 19th….but payday wasn’t until the 22nd. Phone juggling was useless, as usual. There was no way to get through. The DWP website is also useless, just an endless loop to the same few pages that are of no help. I tucked the kids into bed and then hit the phone, waiting on hold until they closed for the day at 10pm and I was disconnected (again).
I finally called on the 19th as soon as their lines opened in the morning to explain to them that my bill said it was due on the 25th and they would get all their money on the 22nd but to please give me a break since it was only a matter of 3 days between the 22nd and the 19th and the nice lady on the line told me not to worry about it, that the disconnect date on the notice was wrong (it should have said the 21st) and even then I would have two or three days before they actually shut us off. So why did they make me panic? There was no answer.

On payday I sent them the last huge amount of money, relieved to be done with it all until my next bill for current charges. Then a friend who had heard my tale of frantic phone calls and disconnect threats, sent me a link to this article. While I have been having anxiety attacks, losing sleep, wasting time on the phone and going there in person I am not the only one. Thousands of families have been stuck in the same living nightmare, being held hostage and extorted by DWP. I have requested billing inquiries for all three of the bills listed on their site. Maybe we’ll get a refund. Probably not. Unbelievable. It seems so futile, like fighting Goliath with no possible way to win. Maybe if all the families and individuals come together we can get some answers and some compensation. But when will I have the time for that? I have other debtors threatening me, a job to hold down, a house to maintain and kids to feed. And oh, yes, the holidays are here. Ho, ho, ho. Not much comfort and joy around here.

Even worse this has all happened before! As I have done searches I have found articles from 2011 that could have been written yesterday. The video that accompanies this post is from 2011, but watch this news report from last week and notice they are shockingly similar. I watched the video after writing the above article and was amazed that the woman's experiences are identical to what I have been going through.

Any private business operating like this would have been shut down and brought up on charges. What kind of shenanigans are going on? Why is this monopoly being allowed to extort ordinary citizens like this? How many will just pay the ridiculous bills because there doesn't seem to be any other choice, as I did? I'm glad the media is now on to this story, but it still seems like it's being under reported. I’ll keep you posted…

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