June E-Newsletter: Bringing the Heat to Central Hudson!

Victories!

Donna West - Smiling

Donna West owed $6,000 when Central Hudson shut off her power. Donna also had three children, suffered from asthma, and was recovering from back surgery. Even a letter from her doctor (which should have kept her power on for at least another 30 days) was not enough to stop Central Hudson from shutting off her power—for 16 months. We worked with Donna to file a complaint with the Public Service Commission (PSC). As a result of the complaint, Central Hudson was forced to turn Donna’s power back on.

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Angela Newman is 59 and chronically ill with COPD, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure. In 2012 she had open heart surgery and received mechanical heart valves. She now has a pacemaker and a nebulizer she uses 4 times a day. According to Central Hudson, the machine that monitors her pacemaker (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) did not qualify her for their Life Support Program which provides special protections for those who use electricity to operate a life-sustaining device every hour of every day. Central Hudson briefly shut off her power in 2014, and every 30 days her doctor had to send Central Hudson a letter to prevent another shutoff. After Angela joined us and spoke out about her story in the media, Central Hudson reversed their decision and put her on the Life Support Program to make sure she is never shut off again, and also agreed to put her on their POP program, a 2-year assistance program to lower bills and forgive arrears.

As a result of the pressure we’ve been applying, Central Hudson requested a meeting to discuss our demands. Ten of our member-leaders and our staff met with Central Hudson executives, and we left having won recognition for Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson as a 3rd party negotiator so that we can intervene in more cases before they reach critical levels.

The Rate Case

The New York State Public Service Commission approved Central Hudson’s rate hike of about 20%. However they rejected the proposed 17% increase in the basic service charge—a regressive flat fee charged monthly no matter how much energy a customer uses. This is a major victory for low-income people and the members of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, who have worked to make their voices heard: marching to Central Hudson’s offices, negotiating with their executives, testifying before the Public Service Commission, and speaking out in the media.

Funeral Procession Down Main St.

On July 1st, the day Central Hudson’s new rates took effect, we held a mock funeral downtown and delivered our mock coffin to Central Hudson’s headquarters. Increased rates will mean many stresses on low-income households, increased shutoffs, and deaths from fires started by candles and from carbon monoxide poisonings created by generators running on empty. A fantastic Hudson Valley News Network video of the mock funeral can be seen here.

NLMH in the News

Our member Nadine Edmonds and I wrote an editorial for the Poughkeepsie Journal describing how Central Hudson’s rate hike would hurt those most vulnerable—working class people of color. As our member Tanya says in the article: “Central Hudson doesn’t care about low-income people, they just care about putting money in their pockets.” Check out the article here.

After members and staff met with the Community Affairs editor of the Poughkeepsie Journal, we won the support from the editorial board of the Poughkeepsie Journal which criticized Central Hudson for going too far with their proposed rate hike and urged the Public Service Commission to reject the proposal. You can read the editorial here.

The Murphy Institute at the City University of New York interviewed NLMH about our past, our mission, and our current campaign for utility rights. We said, “Utilities are a necessary component of the right to housing. When they are not affordable, it is a health issue, it is a displacement issue, it is an insecurity issue.” Read the complete interview here.

Foreclosure Work

NLMH worked alongside allied organizations to enact a foreclosure and vacant property bond ordinance in the City of Poughkeepsie. The ordinance required the owners of foreclosed, foreclosing, or vacant properties to pay cash bonds of $10,000 as security to the city in order to defer foreclosure, reduce blight, and improve the wellbeing of the city. The passing of the ordinance was the first in the State of New York and the seventh in the country. Recently, New York City Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, who represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn, reached out to us about duplicating our foreclosure bond legislation in NYC. An Ann Arbor, Michigan city council person has also reached out to us. We hope to see this important legislation extend across the country and are excited to be a part of a larger movement for housing rights.

Fundraising and Grant-Writing

Our Fueling People’s Power Fundraising was a success! With a generous matching grant of $5,000, we aimed to raise a total of $10,000 within the month. We surpassed our goal, raising over $11,593. Thank you to all the people who helped make this happen! The money will go toward supporting 3 full-time staff members and our fight against Central Hudson.

We also received our third and final installment of $4,500 as a grant from Vassar’s Good Neighbors Committee. In other grant-writing news, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation has invited us to present a full grant proposal after responding positively to our Letter of Inquiry.

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