In 2014, Con Edison issued more than 7,600 electricity shutoff notices per day, and a total of approximately 7,000 households had their energy supply terminated each month. Each year, almost 100,000 New York City–area residents have their lights, refrigerators, air conditioners—their essential life-sustaining electricity—shut off by their utility, Con Edison, which charges the highest rates in the continental United States. Millions of others fall further and further behind on charges and fees they can’t begin to afford.
New Yorkers have rights—ways to prevent these shutoffs—but few know them. Elected officials from Brooklyn and Staten Island and the Public Utility Law Project (PULP) are changing that.
“New Yorkers’ lives did not instantly become better when the federal government declared the Great Recession over, and that is particularly true for the millions of low-income New Yorkers who are continuing to fall behind in paying the highest electric rates in the continental United States,” said Richard Berkley, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project, who conducted the training. “During New York City’s broiling hot summers and the unusually cold winters we have been suffering from recently, electric and gas bills spike, and for months afterward low-income and fixed-income New Yorkers, such as seniors, the disabled, and far too many veterans, must scramble to pay their bills and avert shutoffs.”
On August 5, nearly two dozen constituent affairs staff members were trained in the basics of the Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA), crafted by PULP and enacted by the state legislature in 1981. HEFPA, and the rules and practices the Public Service Commission (PSC) created, are what can help low-income utility consumers through the tough times when they’re threatened with high bills and terminations.
“The rights of individuals disputing their utility bills are not clear, especially when it comes to paying for exorbitantly high utility bills,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol. “I applaud the Public Utility Law Project for co-hosting this great event so my staff members and the staff of other elected officials can effectively advocate on their constituents’ behalf.”