COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus Urban League President and CEO Stephanie Hightower said the community her organization serves was hit hard by the recent AEP Ohio power outages.
“Disenfranchised and marginalized people are already at a disadvantage, and so, the power outage just exacerbated their situations even more,” she said.
She talked about Columbus Urban League essentially serving as a first responder, ready to help those who were struggling. And she was grateful to get the call from AEP Ohio.
“The conversations we’ve had with AEP around finding a resolution have been very productive,” she said. “We appreciate that they finally came to the point where they wanted to put dollars in place to be able to help people with assisting them with lost, either wages, or not having food, or having to go to a hotel for two days or three days, whatever those situations are. So we’re just very thankful that AEP stepped up once they figured out that this was an issue that had to be resolved in an effective manner.”
Next came determining how her organization’s portion of $1 million in funds from AEP Ohio would be distributed. While IMPACT Community Action is distributing $250 Kroger gift cards, the Columbus Urban League will focus on bridging the gap from other financial losses, from hotel stays to lost medicine, and more. Those impacted can fill out an online form and request up to $500 in financial assistance.
In an email late Thursday night, the Columbus Urban League said its portal to request funds will close at midnight due to the overwhelming demand and the fact they are almost out of funds.
However, AEP Ohio is agreeing to extend help to those who qualify beyond the scope of the initial funds.
“We have been in contact with the Urban League and understand that they have received a significant number of assistance applications already,” the company said in a statement to 10TV. “We have committed to helping them provide assistance to the applicants who qualify under their program rules.”
One of the challenges the non-profits helping to distribute the funds have faced is screening those people seeking help to see if they qualify.
IMPACT Community Action required those who showed up for gift cards to show and ID and an AEP Ohio bill that matched the name on the ID.
The Columbus Urban League is requiring people to upload a photo of their IDs so that zip codes can be cross-referenced with the outage areas.
But Hightower admits that is not a fool-proof process.
“This is about the honor system,” she said. “If you lost power, and you lost food, or you had to go to a hotel, or you had to go live with somebody else for a couple of days, we’re going to take people at their word. And there are always going to be some bad apples out there, bad actors, who are going to try to take advantage of the system, but you know what, none of us have time to really try to figure that out.”
Along with IMPACT Community Action and the Columbus Urban League, LifeCare Alliance and the Mid-Ohio Food Collective also received funds from AEP Ohio to help.
The food collective is using the money to purchase more food to supply the community through its services already in place. LifeCare Alliance is using some of the money to replace the cost of food lost during the outages and the rest to offer more meals to those in need and to help with bill assistance.