COLUMBUS, Ohio — Frankie Smith says she was hit hard by the recent AEP Ohio outages and struggled to find a hotel while her power was out last week.
“We were not able to get a hotel the first night because they were all sold out,” she said. “The second night was even more frustrating, but thank God we were able to get a hotel that night. But I’m just blessed everything is over, and hopefully it won’t happen again.”
To get some relief, she was one of the hundreds of people who lined up at IMPACT Community Action Wednesday morning to get a $250 Kroger gift card.
Those cards were provided via money from AEP Ohio. IMPACT leaders say, while they were not given any direction from the power company, they decided it would be most helpful to buy the grocery store gift cards.
However, they ran into another challenge when they discovered only $2,000 worth of gift cards, which amounted to just eight cards in this case, could be purchased at a time. That meant only 50 were available at a distribution event Tuesday night, and only 50 were available Wednesday morning.
“We have taken some of our credit cards from senior staff to go and purchase as many as we can to serve customers, but we really need the bulk purchase,” said IMPACT CEO Bo Chilton.
Leaders were able to eventually get in touch with Kroger corporate and will be able to purchase the rest of the 900 total cards they planned to purchase. So the rest will all be available at the next event, which is scheduled for Monday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
That meant many customers were left frustrated when the cards ran out Wednesday morning, however, And, even though Smith was able to snag one, she still is feeling let down by AEP Ohio.
“I’m still frustrated with them,” she said. “They’re not on my Christmas list this year.”
10TV took those customer concerns to AEP Ohio, where Jon Williams, managing director of customer experience and distribution technology, answered them.
“Logistics are difficult no matter what, but (these non-profits) are gearing up, they’ll be able to meet the need,” he said. “Those agencies are very adept at getting dollars to customers in need.”
AEP is distributing $1 million to four local agencies – IMPACT Community Action, LifeCare Alliance, Mid-Ohio Food Collective and Columbus Urban League.
But there has been frustration, both from customers and from the non-profits themselves, about the onus being placed on those distributing and receiving help, rather than on AEP Ohio.
“I know people are upset,” Williams said. “I know they’re upset about being outaged. And certainly that is not something that we hope anybody has. Last thing we want to do is outage a customer for any reason.” Williams also pointed out that there is $2.7 million in help available from the company’s Neighbor to Neighbor program. But those who qualify must have an outstanding balance and make less than 300% of the federal poverty level. People also have to be AEP Ohio customers and the grants would be up to $500.
And when questioned about the company’s response to the outages overall and the criticism about communication to customers about the situation, Williams says policies and procedures will be reviewed, pointing out that PUCO is looking into the situation as well.
“We always have plans to do better overall,” he said. “Looking under every stone, always do better, no question.”