Annual Report - 2014
Consumers Council of Missouri builds on its foundation, laid in 1971, to educate consumers statewide and advocate for their collective interests through leadership and partnerships on issues such as utility rates, health care access, personal finance and others, as they arise.
More than 40 people gathered on the cold and icy night of Monday, December 1, to enjoy wine, hors d’oeuvres, conversation and music by Sutton Street Shuffle, aka, The Consumer Activists. The occasion celebrated another challenging but satisfying year for Consumers Council of Missouri. The group held its annual meeting at the Wine Press in St. Louis’s Central West End.
Board President Jackie Hutchinson welcomed the members and thanked them for their support and involvement over the year. She reminded everyone to cast their ballot for board members, board officers and a change in the bylaws.
Board members unanimously elected for three-year terms include: Joyce Armstrong, Wayne Goode, Ray Hartmann, Jackie Hutchinson, Tracy McCreery and Glenna Osborn. Officers elected are: Jackie Hutchinson, president; Ed Weisbart, vice president; and Tracy McCreery, secretary/treasurer. The bylaws were changed unanimously to eliminate term limits.
A summary of the following Annual Report of CCM’s activities was made available to the attendees. A full report is below
CCM had a busy year at the Public Service Commission, with cases and rule-making. Led by John Coffman, Utility Consumer Counsel, CCM:
º Worked with allies to defend consumer protections from utilities’ attacks during a rewrite of residential customer billing rules that took seven years. CCM led a coalition of consumer parties in successfully preserving the rule that requires an in-person safety check (door knock) for vulnerable customers facing disconnection.
º Negotiated a settlement in the Missouri Gas Energy rate case that reduced the fixed customer charge and resulted in virtually no rate increase.
º Successfully fought to disclose Ameren Missouri's overearnings -- over $100 million in excess earnings over the past two years -- during a proceeding at the PSC. Now we are working to get such disclosures routine.
º Successfully worked with allies to persuade the PSC to propose a rule barring utilities from using predatory lenders as bill collection sites.
º Intervened in rate cases that Ameren Missouri and Kansas City Power & Light filed late in the year that will play out through a good portion of 2015.
We continued to participate with the Fair Energy Rate Action Federation in the Capitol in Jefferson City by proposing the Utility Transparency and Fairness Act in the Missouri General Assembly and by fighting anti-consumer bills. FERAF is made up of organizations representing individual consumers as well as commercial and industrial consumers.
In late January CCM helped host at a reception in the state Capitol for members of the Missouri House and Senate. Co-hosts were then-Missouri Association for Social Welfare – now Empower Missouri – and the Missouri chapter of AARP. A good turnout – 39 member and 4 staffers – turned out to hear about our legislative priorities for consumers.
Regarding a court case that carried over from 2013, consumers lost in the Missouri Supreme Court on the definitions of “transmit” and “transport” as they related to moving electricity. The ruling came in a case that allowed Ameren Missouri to unfairly raise rates by describing large electric "transmission" projects as the "transportation" of fuel for inclusion in the Fuel Adjustment Clause surcharge.
Health Care Access
CCM participated in the Cover Missouri Coalition to help educate Missourians about health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act and to encourage enrollment. Seeking to fulfill its goal to expand access to health care, CCM:
º Led the effort to gather plaintiffs for a federal lawsuit challenging a Missouri law that imposed restrictions on guiding people through the process of enrolling in the ACA and caused confusion about what groups like CCM could legally do to promote enrollment. The judge issued a preliminary injunction, barring enforcement of the. The state has appealed the decision.
º Signed a contract with Missouri Foundation for Health to review and explore issues concerning insurance rates under the ACA in Missouri and prepare consumer materials for rate review in future years. Missouri is the only state in the country that does not require insurance companies to either file rates or submit rates for review. Therefore, under the ACA, the federal government is required to review the rates insurance companies files with it. But it has failed to do so.
º Entered an agreement with a law firm in Washington D.C. to file a lawsuit after the federal government denied our request for rate information under the Freedom of Information Act. The lawsuit is ongoing.
º Participated in advocating for the expansion of Medicaid in Missouri through its memberships in Missouri Healthcare for All, Missouri Medicaid Coalition and Physicians for a National Health Program.
Consumers Council was active over the past year in various aspects of issues relating to personal finance:
º As a member of St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Alliance (SLEHCRA), we participate in reaching an agreement with Midland States Bank that included new bank locations and $16.6 million in loans and investments for access to home mortgages and financial services for minorities in the St. Louis area.
º We participated in the St. Louis Regional Unbanked Taskforce, which was formed to identify and address systemic and individual barriers that bar unbanked and under-banked households from traditional banking.
º CCM received a mini grant from Bank On Save Up St. Louis to hold a Money Smart financial literacy workshop in August in partnership with Epiphany United Church of Christ in Benton Park in St. Louis. We have received mini grants to hold two more workshops.
º CCM contributed four articles to the newspaper insert promoting Money Smart week in April.
º During the legislative session CCM crafted a bill to would outlaw abusive and bullying behavior of bill collectors working for the payday lending industry. Unfortunately, different language falsely purporting to accomplish the same purpose was adopted in Senate Bill 694, which made other changes in payday lending law. CCM was successful, with allies, in urging the governor to veto the bill.
Fan Freedom: CCM has joined forces with a national organization, Fan Freedom, to challenge Ticketmaster's pre-purchase disclosures to consumers of the restrictions on paperless tickets.
C.A.R.S.: CCM continues to work with C.A.R.S., a national group urging the U.S. Congress to pass legislation stopping the rental of recalled cars that have not been repaired.
John Coffman, Consumer Utility Counsel, continues to be active in his professional organization, National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA), contributing his experience and knowledge on the national level and learning from his colleagues.
CCM welcomed the governor’s appointment of Dustin Allison as Public Counsel within the Office of Public Counsel. He replaced Lewis Mills, CCM’s longtime ally who was appointed director of the Division of Energy in the Department of Economic Development.
CCM continues as a state affiliate of the Consumer Federation of America, enabling it to take advantage of CFA’s resources and conferences.
Joan Bray, executive director, was appointed to the board of directors of the National Consumers League, a 115-year-old leader in consumer and labor issues. NCL is seeking to broaden its activities and effects in states.
Consumers Council of Missouri Board of Directors & Staff
Jackie Hutchinson, President
Ed Weisbart, Vice President
Tracy McCreery, Secretary/Treasurer
Odester Dixon Saunders
Joan Bray, Executive Director
John Coffman, Utility Consumer Counsel
7166 Pershing Avenue, St. Louis MO 63130
A tax-deductible 501(c)(3) organization