J. THOMAS MULLEN, PRESIDENT & CEO
CATHOLIC CHARITIES HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Chairman Jeffords and distinguished Members of the United States Senate, Committee on Environment and Public Works:
I thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding Senate Bill 556, referred to as the Clean Power Act. My name is Tom Mullen and I am President of Catholic Charities Health and Human Services in Cleveland, Ohio. Catholic Charities in Cleveland serves over 600,000 people annually and has an $87,000,000 annual operating budget, while employing of 1,700 people. We provide services to children and families; older adults; persons with disabilities; and those with emergency and basic transitional needs. (Last year we served over 4.5 million meals to the hungry and provided tens of thousands nights of shelter to homeless women, men and children). This service area is in the eight-county Cleveland Catholic Diocese in Northeast Ohio.
I want to acknowledge the support and involvement that Committee Member Senator George V. Voinovich has given to our communities and the people we serve in Ohio. I want to share with you today what impact that Senate Bill 556 would have on a number of the people we serve daily in Northeast Ohio.
Senator Voinovich, in the last couple of years, has convened people most directly impacted by the rise in utility costs. The elderly on fixed limited incomes and the working poor with families have made it clear to him during these meetings and to me on a daily basis that they cannot afford increases in costs for their basic needs. Many indicate that, currently, they cannot afford basic needs without either falling behind in payments and/or ignoring one of those needs like rent, utility, or health care bills.
Senate Bill 556 on the surface strives to cleanse the environment of many of the oxides and, in particular, carbon dioxide and mercury. These gases are given off through the burning of coal. I ask the Committee to carefully review the negative impact that would occur on millions of people in our country and in my state of Ohio if the bill is enacted without deeper consideration and further research.
The State of Ohio’s energy production is provided by 86% use of coal. If Senate Bill 556 is enacted, the conversion to natural gas from coal would have a devastating effect on the people of Ohio and our country, particularly the poor and the elderly. The Edison Electric Institute estimates that, if enacted, the loss in America in gross domestic product by the year 2010 would be $75 billion and grow to $150 billion in 2020. In the State of Ohio, the loss would be $3 billion and grow to $6 billion by 2020.
Employment in Ohio would be dramatically impacted with job losses estimated at 25,000 by 2010 and 37,000 by 2020. With all of this, the most vulnerable of our people economically, would see their electric costs in Ohio soar to $494,000,000 in 2010 and to $1.5 billion in 2020.
The overall impact on the economy in Northeast Ohio would be overwhelming, and the needs that we address at Catholic Charities in Ohio with the elderly and poor would be well beyond our capacity and that of our current partners in government and the private sector.
In a recent study on Public Opinion on Poverty, it was reported that one-quarter of Americans report having problems paying for several basic necessities. In this study, currently 23% have difficulty in paying their utilities – that is, one out of four Americans. If Senate Bill 556 is passed, we could see the difficulty in Cleveland reach beyond one out of two people and families not able to pay utilities. This is based on the current fact that, in Cleveland, 25.8% of people are below the federal poverty level and from the 200% increase in emergency assistance needs we are experiencing at Catholic Charities in the last 18 months. This is all without the domestic increase these same individuals and many thousands of others will experience through job loss and utility cost increase as a result of the Clean Power Act.
I want to emphasize, again, the two groups of our most vulnerable population in Ohio that would be impacted by this Bill. First, the elderly in Cleveland – approximatelyone-half (49.4%) of persons over 65 years old have incomes less that $15,000 per year. In Cuyahoga County, nearly one-third (31.5%) fall into the same category. Northeast Ohio reflects realistically what negative impact the increase in utility cost would have for all our seniors in Ohio and through similar states throughout the nation.
The second group that I have real concern for and will be hurt similarly by this is children. In Cleveland, over one-fourth of all children live in poverty and are in a family of a single female head of household. These children will suffer further loss of basic needs as their moms are forced to make choices of whether to pay the rent or live in a shelter; pay the heating bill or see their child freeze; buy food or risk the availability of a hunger center. These are not choices any senior citizen, child, or, for that matter, person in America should make.
I ask the Committee to look carefully at the ramifications of Senate Bill 556 and its impact on employment and energy costs. We have many vulnerable people in Cleveland, in Ohio, and across America who cannot carry the burden of this legislation.
Chairman Jeffords and Senators of the Committee, thank you for your time.