Updated, 5:30 a.m.; explanation of 600 backlogged cases.
NORWALK, Conn. – A “whistleblower” has come forth to say that clients of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) are “being affected in a major way” by the “dismantling” of the Energy Assistance Program there. She also said promises made to employees in regard to their health insurance have not been kept.
The Rev. Tommie Jackson, transitional NEON leader, called the allegations false.
“I oversee the Energy Department and, because of the current leadership many are not being served in a timely manner and in my 30+ years of overseeing the Energy Department, this is tragic,” Juanita Ball wrote in an email. “The leadership terminated my staff. I am responsible for Energy for Norwalk, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Westport, Wilton, Weston and Greenwich. I had more than nine staff members and now I have four staff members, two full time two part time and one faithful volunteer. This all took place when Rev. Jackson arrived.”
Two people have contacted NancyOnNorwalk recently to say that they have not been able to contact NEON for energy assistance.
“I am truly baffled at how many times I have attempted and I have yet to get not even a receptionist???” Onika Boyke wrote in a Feb. 11 email.
Ball also said NEON employees have no health insurance.
“We have been told that we must get our own insurance through Obamacare, we were told that there were arrangements with the clinic and there is not and never was, we have no dental, no vision, no prescription … they were all wrong,” she wrote in the Feb. 19 email.
NancyOnNorwalk gave Jackson time to respond to the allegations. That was accomplished in a Monday night phone call.
“I never dismantled the energy program. Never,” he said. “In fact, when I came into the place on Nov. 7, 2013, a number had been furloghed, including persons who had been part of the energy program, at least five employees. Of those, furloughed under the guise of not being laid off, three of those five are still in the employment of the agency.”
It is “simply not true” that there are only four employees in the Energy Assistance Program, he said. There are three fulltime employees and five parttime employees, he said.
Jackson said he had needed time to confirm those statistics and other things in response to Ball’s email, hence the difficulty in connecting with NoN. He said Ball’s classification of herself as a “whistleblower” was not in accordance with NEON policy, as she went to the press, not the Human Relations department.
There were more than 600 energy cases backlogged through NEON but none of them had anything to do with heating oil, he said. That is important because there is a state moratorium preventing energy companies from shutting off the supply of gas or electricity to customers between November and April, but nothing to prevent an oil company from refusing to deliver oil, he said.
He said he had called NEON himself to see if calls were being answered.
“Sometimes phones are answered. Sometimes phones are not answered,” he said. “Sometimes workers are busy and maintain an overload of what they have to do so people are asked to leave a voicemail.”
Jackson said he had asked the staff to acknowledge a phone call within 48 hours, even if they could not yet help the person who called. Emergency phone calls are an exception, he said. He takes phone calls himself, sometimes at his church, he said. Seven people had called him between Friday and Monday evening and he contacted staff members, he said. He subsequently got positive feedback, he said.
Boyle said one week after her initial email that she had gotten help.
“I finally was able to get through the main NEON office,” she wrote on Feb. 18. “Not sure what the problem was but I made an appointment for late March.”
This concerned an electricity bill for an unemployed relative, she said.
“The backlog of 600 applications needing processing was through January 2014,” Jackson explained. “Now, the backlog is approximately 175 applications. It is expected that the backlogged applications will get processed on or before Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Mrs. Ball, and other staff will work on Saturday, to bring the applications current.”
As for the health insurance, Jackson acknowledged, as has previously been reported, that NEON health insurance premiums were not paid. That dated back to September, he said. As a result, Cigna health insurance company notified NEON that it will no longer offer employees insurance.
He contacted Norwalk Community Health, he said.
“They were willing to work with and supervise health service to employees who were laid off and impacted by NEON not having the ability to pay the health insurance,” he said.
When insurance became available under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), he suggested that as an option, he said.
“Last week, the agency decided to pay a percentage of the premiums Obamacare would charge,” he said. “We would incur a portion of that cost for the employees to show good faith so that people maintain a modicum of health insurance.”