Sunday, May 30, 2010

When refugees accidentally rack up a $1800 phone bill

Urg. About a month ago Tee Reh (refugee from Burma) asked us to help him understand a letter. It turned out to be a letter from a Creditor, who said they had an overdue phone bill and were required to pay $1800.


I started making calls, first to the creditor, told me to call AT&T for an explanation of the bill. AT&T was very helpful - said the phone was set up at the apartment last summer, and for two years they made their small monthly payment. Then suddenly in September they discovered they could call Thailand, where their whole extended family is still in refugee camps. They called and would talk for 30 minutes or and hour, and AT&T said the rate was about $2.50 a minute. Geez. In ONE month they racked up over $1,000 in charges. They'd never had  a phone before and had only lived in the jungle, so the difference between calling across the ocean and calling across the city seemed like nothing - they were both dialed phone numbers on this new contraption.

The creditor company wouldn't talk to me unless they had a signed and faxed permission form from Tee Reh's non-English-speaking mother-in-law to speak on their behalf. I asked for advice on facebook and was at least encouraged to keep going for it and begging for help. Since it was in the hands of the creditor, AT&T was very nice but said they couldn't help me. One faxed form later, I spoke with a manager at the creditor company and he listened to my explanation of the situation and gave me the options, which are limited. In some ways, he's being generous. The best of the option cuts the current bill by nearly half, down from nearly $1900 to just over $1,000. The catch? They have to pay it all in one payment, soon.

We go on Monday to talk to them about the options, and I just feel awful because I know they can't pay... any of the options. If it was a hundred a month, they could manage it over time. I would like to help them, and I know that our community from church would like to help them, but say we paid $800 of the bill - that's still too much money for us to pay.... almost all of us are struggling financially right now as well.

My church's policy is to meet needs through community groups, but when if there's a big need and the community's financial resources are small, and already have been extended to a few situations recently?

I guess I don't know what to do. It isn't technically our responsibility to help them with this bill, but I know they won't be able to pay it.  I feel helpless as the moment - helpless to pay our own hospital and car repair bills (we have to pay ahead of time for our delivery, which I didn't expect), helpless to help another family in need, helpless to work through bureaucracy to advocate for others to help.


Jaimie said...

I'm so sorry. I will be praying for this situation. I wish I had money to help, but I am trying to pinch pennies myself. Ugh. Prayer.

(Prayer is stronger than money, though, isn't it?)

The Bald Guy said...

Kacie, you're one courageous and patient girl. Keeping my fingers crossed. Keep us updated would you?

Bethany said...

Oh wow, that is a mess. I have no advice for you or them but I'll be praying! Keep us updated!