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NEON ‘Whistleblower’ condemns Energy Assistance Program, employee benefits

NEON 050813 016
A painting hung at Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON).

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.”

Comments

36 responses to “NEON ‘Whistleblower’ condemns Energy Assistance Program, employee benefits”

  1. anonymous

    Does Juanita Ball not know that Obamacare is health care.

  2. The Norwalker

    If the Employee gets the Health Insurance from the Affordable Care act then NEON is not contributing and has reduced the compensation given to employees in a back handed way. It also creates more accounting expenses for employees when tax season comes around.

  3. anonymous

    “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.”

  4. Obama was elected into office by many of these people so it should be of great pride that they subscribe to their leaders healthcare plan. If they have to pay for it – which they should 100% – well then that is what they get for not really thinking about whom they elected into office.
    *
    @ The Norwalker – who cares if it creates more accounting expenses for the employees at tax time? That is a NONissue if I ever heard of one.
    *
    Actually since NEON is a government agency then by all means every employee should not ever get private insurance but mandated out to obamacare.
    *
    As for Juanita crying about a shortage of staff – learn to do more with less and streamline your workload – that is what every manager in corporate america did in 2008/2009. That is called effective management. Obviously not something NEON employees are not used to but then they were protected under the shield of being a government agency full of waste.
    *

  5. loveforthecity

    This place is an embarrassment to the city of Norwalk and our community.

  6. Bill

    Sorry people, learn to live with less just like all the people in the middle class and private sector. The government has no more money for handouts.

  7. WOW!

    WOW! Rev. Jackson’s justification for not acting immediately to fulfill NEON’s obligation to the people in need of gas and electricity assistance, who are among the backlog of 600 cases, is: SO WHAT, THE STATE CAN’T SHUT THEM OFF ANYWAY. This … attitude also justifies, in his mind, to only pay his creditors a small portion of what NEON owes or else: WE’LL GO CHAPTER 7 AND THEY WON’T GET A DIME.
    Do not be surprised if NEON does go Chapter 7 and then tries to recreate itself under a new name. This would be a fraud. However, this … Reverend, who couldn’t care less about NEON employees or those that they serve, will try and find a way to have NEON rise from the … And to think, he is on Governor Malloy’s Ethics Committee!!!!!

    (This comment has been edited to comply with our policy.)

  8. the donut hole

    only 9 full timers to administer what? even 5 people for 600 means 125 apps per. how long does it take to process an application? except for those who need their handouts, this is a pure comedy routine.

  9. Inquiring Mind

    ” Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten [us] into !”- Stan Laurel.
    .
    It just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?

  10. dawn

    what about employee contributions that were taken out of paychecks, the paycheck that were given. Are they up to date by the way.
    .
    i hope that any of the wiothholding that were taken have been reimbursed if they were not used for the purposed taken.

  11. What withholdings? Federal? State?
    All these are not reimbursable but only through filing taxes.
    Insurance? Not reimbursable either – they received a benefit from it.
    *

  12. EveT

    @irishgirl, in response to: “every employee should not ever get private insurance but mandated out to obamacare” — the insurance that is available through Obamacare is private insurance. If I understand your intended comment, it is that NEON employees should not be given health insurance as part of their job compensation, but should have to purchase it themselves through the state or federal Obamacare exchange. Is that what was meant?

  13. Ms. Ruby Mcpherson

    MS. BALL MIGHT BE RIGHT, BUT EVEN WITH JACKSON COMING IN PLAY, IT STILL TAKE TIME TO MOVE THINGS. REMEMBER YOU ARE DEALING WITH PAPER WORK, STATE AND FEDERAL. ALSO MOST CLIENTS NEED TO TAKE CARE OF HEATING BUDGETING, INSTEAD OF LIVING BEYOND THEIR MEANS. WHAT HAPPENS IF THE REPUBLICANS VOTE THIS PROGRAM DOWN.

  14. the donut hole

    @Ruby Macpherson. They might just have to forego that new flatscreen and the latest iphone and those designer clothes for one winter.

  15. Dawn

    What i meant Irish girl is this. try to follow
    .
    employees may or may not have been issued paychecks.
    .
    if they were issued paychecks the employer is required to withhold money for health insurance if offered, federal state and local tax, workmans comp, social security.
    .
    NEON would then need to submit those monies to the appropriate place.
    .
    if Neon did indeed issue check and collect the withholdings did they then do what they were supposed to with the money, or did they use it for whatever.

    are these employees that have been screwed over already going to be hit with tax bills now.

    and please do not give me that they don’t pay taxes anyway. they worked and they should be made whole.

    so can we get an answer.

  16. the obamacare program is not a private insurance – it is funded by the government.
    *
    And yes, you understand me correctly, any program funded through the government or pays workers through government monies should be mandated to buy insurance privately or through obamacare. Work for the private sector if you want private insurance or buy it yourself.
    *
    @Dawn – try not to be so snarky next time you respond (NoN, pooper scooper please).
    *
    But if NoN doesn’t deem your response rude then I will reply by saying this:
    “Dawn, I will type this slowly so you understand….”:
    *
    If NEON withheld any money like that meant for SS, State or Fed – you can bet your bottom half that the IRS and Feds would descend on them like white on rice and they would be rounded up like a herd of cattle.

    Editor’s note: Neither this comment nor Dawn’s crossed any policy lines.

  17. Shadow

    Irishgirl the thick of it is that NEON was taking other monies from staff checks through deductions, that had nothing to do with FICA/ST. So as mentioned before “Follow” staff was paying private life insurance through payroll deduction, medical debit cards, health insurance and other. So if NEON was taking the money out of their paychecks and nothing was being paid then staff should have their monies given back to them. Not only that, there is still monies owed to staff for Vacation time accrued and they still have not been paid. Im not saying have sympathy for the people because obviously you don’t, but put yourself in the situation NEON staff were in not being paid, but yet the love for their jobs kept them coming in and working, people loosing their apartments and cars and homes. …

    This comment has been edited to comply with our policy.

  18. I have sympathy for people not being paid for their fair share – and I’ve never said otherwise.
    *
    vacation time is something entirely different than SS, State and Fed (ect..). That is a benefit and not a law.
    *
    But honestly – going to work and not getting paid… ummmm, the joke is on them. The writing was on the wall for a LONNNNG time. It may have been better to use that time to look for another job.
    *
    But yet somehow, I think, they were either naïvely thinking they would be paid in the long run or the government would bail them out or they have a lawsuit on their hands and they would make hundreds of dollars for not doing anything when they sued.
    *

  19. Inquiring Mind

    @Ms. McPherson – This isn’t a Republican/Democratic political issue that is up for a vote. It’s about people who have heating bills they can’t pay. It’s not about “living beyond one’s means”. It’s about being on Social Security and trying to make the choice between heat(and in some cases heat & light)and food.
    .
    This program is done with State funds through the Department of Social Services. The biggest fuel assistance cuts were announced last year by Gov. Malloy – along with a proposal to dissolve the Department of Aging, the department for the most vulnerable of our citizens. Fortunately, enough people rose up in protest against the dissolution of the department.
    .
    The program needs to be placed in capable hands. I’m not in a position to judge whether the South Norwalk Community Center would be that organization, but the clients for this program need that assistance.

  20. We Can Do Better

    “Sometimes phones are answered. Sometimes phones are not answered,” according to The Rev Jackson. Er,a hem,no the phones are never answered on most lines. And an addendum; NEON lost most administration to the states heating assistance program.
    NEON no longer controls any funds in or out. ABCD in Bridgeport now administers the program for the areas previously covered by NEON. All NEON employees are allowed and tasked with doing is filling out applications for the applicants. Which, btw, can and should made available online, than no one would have to call endlessly to make an appointment to have someone else fill in the dotted lines, only to be circled back to call and call and call again as the voice mail boxes are ALWAYS full and do not accept messages. This is a no brainer. State should put the applications online for those in need and award some other authority, any other than NEON, the administration. It’s affecting the clients in need and is not necessary, at all. Its not corruption, nor is it ill will or evil doings,its simply a matter of management competency.

  21. The Norwalker

    What about the people that NEON laid off? I am not 100% but I think there are laws that call for NEON to grant them access to their former insurance using the COBRA plan. NEON just cut their health insurance off cold turkey!!

  22. The Norwalker

    Irishgirl

    NEON is not a government agency, I know that the many of the former employees wish that it was.

  23. The Norwalker

    The problem is that NEON let it’s Health Insurance lapse during the period when employees were being laid off. Some employees had insurance contributions taken out in the first two weeks of the month that they were laid off, but the last two weeks had no employee contributions taken out. What did NEON do with the partial employee contributions taken from employees paychecks?

  24. From the sounds of this insurance issue, if true or not, sounds like many calls to the Attorney General is in order.
    To hell with Duff, Morris and the rest of any supposedly legislator “helping” out NEON. If any of this is true, several people will be heading to jail.

  25. Shadow

    You have no clue irishgirl, but anyway staff did end up getting paid for time worked, and they will get their other pay. One thing I truly believe is that staff must of had faith in a higher power. It’s so easy to knock an issue when your not in it. So if you want to put the company down then do so, but don’t lash out at the staff, especially the many of teachers that continued to work under those conditions so that parents wouldnt loose their jobs and over 500 children would of been without childcare. (Then you would start complaining about unemployment and your contribution to it.) Maybe your not familiar with other programs that were affected by this mess. The staff don’t control the money upper management did, and guess what staff, they will get their just rewards. You can bet on that.

  26. Shadow

    Thank you Norwalker!

    NO it isn’t a government agency!

  27. Shadow

    I agree “WeCanDoBetter”

  28. Shadow

    Cobra plans are out of reach for the people of NEON that aint and yes I said aint making that kind of money!

    People lost not just health insurance, but life insurance policies that they had been paying on for 15/20 years where did those deductions go? loans are about to be defaulted from 401k plans. Where did those deductions go?????? All I’m asking?????

  29. CT Grandma

    It is easy for people to criticize! I have been there and seen how the 1.5 employees at Norwalk NEON handle the energy apps. The other 2 or 3 people are in Stamford. The towns they service – Stamford, Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Weston, Wilton and Norwalk have many more than 600 applications. (Read the note carefully! Those were the backlogged ones!) Each app has to be reviewed to see if the proper documentation has been supplied and to see if guidelines are met. It is quite time consuming… especially considering that most people don’t read, and therefore show up with less than required which means wasting their time and the time of the NEON employees because they have to come back!

  30. Shadow,
    Don’t get your panties in a knot. I have a clue about what is going on down at NEON so don’t think you know any better.
    What makes you think that I that I “lashed” out at the staff? I did no such thing – just merely said if they went and knew they weren’t going to get paid for it, then it is their own fault. No lashing out – just a statement.
    *
    As for “having no clue” you should read up on the basics of 401k plans, cobra insurance and life insurance policies. As for the loans for the 401k plans – wow, a government agency offering 401k plans (do they match) because most private companies gave way to those because of the recession – those with loans will be contacted about having to pay back or lose what is in their accounts.
    *

  31. bamboozled

    @Irish Girl you are correct it was a 403b plan because of non-profit status. Yes there was the company match but that applied to non union employees. This debacle is a complete mess. Many people’s lives were destroyed. It is not easy finding employment especially in these economic times. To be hit out of nowhere with this nonsense and affecting the employees who had nothing to do with what actions of upper management has caused. Going to school and getting credentialed is always good but credentials do not mean a thing if there are no jobs available. I believe that help is good only if you are trying to make changes in your lives. Sometimes people do fall on hard times. It is sad that when you don’t need the system for so long and built a level of independence and stability but when something happens it is difficult for people to get help because people do abuse the system.

  32. The Norwalker

    I knew that people at NEON could not handle COBRA payments, but as a courtesy NEON should have offered and as a courtesy NEON should have informed former and present employees that their Health Insurance had lapsed before they found out the hard way!

  33. The Norwalker

    CT Grandma

    What ever the number of Energy assistance clients the Energy Intake workers could have to setup up to 3 separate assistance requests for Gas, Electricity and heating oil. Lots of work.

  34. The Norwalker

    Here is a interesting document that the Finance Committee on the NEON Board may be interested in.

    http://www.statisticalconsultants.co.nz/blog/B42.html

  35. Bamboozled,
    I agree with most of your posting but for a few caveats: many people in NEON rely on this service for WAY too long and that is a travesty. They have already set the precedence that it is okay to live off other people’s taxes. Second (the workers) – this did not come out of nowhere. The writing was on the wall for a long time. Ever since Mann was in charge, these senior “management” have completely embezzled or manipulated the money from the start.
    *
    As for people who need help from the government and get it, it is usually the ones who know how to work the system that get the most out of it than the people who truly need it and don’t get it. That is a problem.

  36. Stamford

    Well i called Neon it just ring and ring. I went into the office and there is 1.5 staff down there as well. So where there is 5 i dont know. And with the mismanagement from top and goes back further then that.

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