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"Walnut Way a champion for Energy Equity: How Advocacy Preserved the LIFT Program by WE Energies"

Walnut Way Conservation Corp, has become a champion for energy affordability in Milwaukee. Their commitment to addressing economic disparities and housing inequities has led them to push back against proposed rate increases by WE Energies.

WE Energies sought to raise gas and electric rates for residents in Milwaukee, a move that Walnut Way saw as a failure of That would disproportionately impact low-income households' ability to afford their monthly utility bill. Walnut Way believes in the power of communities to drive their own change and felt that this increase would further burden the community they serve.

In response, Walnut Way became involved in the rate case, reflecting its 20-year history of working to improve and support the community. This advocacy work resulted in the preservation of the LIFT Program by WE Energies, a significant victory for energy affordability in Wisconsin.

Walnut Way's efforts illustrate the importance of community-led initiatives in the face of systemic challenges. Their work continues to impact all of Milwaukee, ensuring that all residents have access to affordable energy.

The future of WE Energies' LIFT program, a pivotal initiative for forgiving low-income customer arrears, was recently under scrutiny by the Public Service Commission (PSC). The possibility of discontinuation loomed large. However, thanks to the concerted advocacy efforts by community organizations like Walnut Way, the program has been preserved and will continue to provide essential support through winter 2024.

Advocacy in Action

Walnut Way's intervention was instrumental in influencing the PSC's decision to keep the LIFT program operational. Their advocacy ensured this critical service, which helps customers clear outstanding balances, will persist.

The LIFT program will now act as a companion to the forthcoming Percentage of Income Payment Program, a docket that is still active in proceedings. Walnut Way remains at the helm of these endeavors, representing the community's voice effectively.

This effort included partners like Metcalf Park Community Bridges, Citizens Utility Board Sierra Club and Citizen Action Wisconsin, led by community organizer, Keviea Guiden and their grassroots initiative to address energy burden, "Fight for our Lights."

Detailed Overview of the LIFT Program

The LIFT program by WE Energies is a vital resource for customers burdened with significant overdue bills. It allows eligible individuals to eliminate their arrears, thereby preventing potential service disconnections and easing financial stress.

In addition to the continuance of the LIFT program, the PSC has also directed WE Energies to lower the current $600 reconnection fee. The revised amount will be determined in the spring following discussions with PSC staff.

Despite Walnut Way's proposal to lower the eligibility threshold for the LIFT program from $300 to $120, the PSC decided to retain the original threshold. However, they have allowed for discretionary reductions on a case-by-case basis.

Looking Ahead

As we approach 2024, Walnut Way plans to engage directly with the Commissioners post the appeal period for this decision. Advocacy for low-income customers will remain a priority, with a strong emphasis on aligning actions with declared intentions. Walnut Way will continue to leverage the data and opportunities provided by the community to justify the need for this support.

The preservation of the LIFT program is a testament to the impact of community engagement and advocacy. Walnut Way will continue to lead these efforts, ensuring that vital programs like LIFT remain accessible to those who need them most.

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