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Victories—Progress for members with POP
Last month, we announced that our member Angela Newman was accepted into Central Hudson’s POP assistance program, and we have now received the details of the agreement. Angela, who is chronically ill with COPD, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure, will now be paying $50 each month instead of the $125 she used to pay. After 24 months, her $6,258 debt will be reduced to nothing—Angela will be debt free.
Tanya Barber was $2,500 in debt with Central Hudson and struggling to keep up with a Deferred Payment Agreement (DPA—a plan which added $10 to her monthly bills to pay off her debt). When she attempted to make a payment after missing her previous one, she learned that Central Hudson was planning on shutting her power off. At that time, she was living with her two children and one-year-old grandson. We met with her soon after her termination notice and filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission, managing to negotiate another DPA before they could shut her power off. The DPA was still not affordable, but after public pressure we were able to get her on the POP program which will reduce her monthly bill by $120 and, over 24 months of payments, she will be absolved of her $2,565 debt.
Mary Grace moved to Poughkeepsie in the middle of winter. Between buying winter clothing for her children, buying groceries, paying rent, and paying $800 utility bills, she fell into debt with Central Hudson. When she was warned about a forthcoming shut-off, she came to us. After multiple complaints to the Public Service Commission, we were able to prevent a shut-off and negotiate a more affordable bill for her through the POP program. Mary Grace’s monthly bill will now be $58, which is about a quarter of what her bill used to be, and will also be absolved of all debts after 24 months of payments.
While we are excited that these and other Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson members have been placed in the POP program through public pressure, Central Hudson only enrolls 1/300 of customers. Many more low-income families need the benefits of this program, and that’s why we demand that Central Hudson expand this program to all low-income customers.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) has begun a proceeding around issues of energy affordability for low-income people after concerns that their reworking of New York State’s grid would have a disproportionate cost on low-income communities. This proceeding is important—we want the PSC to address low-income issues but in doing so we want the PSC to acknowledge, listen to, and consult with low-income people themselves. Unfortunately, during their data collection and report writing stages, the PSC accepted only utilities themselves and larger expert advocacy groups as appropriate participants and disallowed participation by people who experienced unaffordable rates, mounting debts, and harmful shutoffs firsthand. As a result, the proposed changes would mostly restrict access to low-income programs even further, thereby harming poor people, and neglecting the growing energy crisis in New York.
We stood with our allies who are working on energy issues statewide including the Alliance for a Green Economy, PUSH Buffalo, and Syracuse United Neighbors as leaders in the newly forming New York State Energy Democracy Alliance to demand that the PSC consult with low-income people themselves. We attended the technical conference about the proposed changes and met with one of the four heads of the Public Service Commission to demand public hearings across the state in order to include the voices of those whose needs they seek to address through the low-income proceeding. These hearings must also be made both geographically and economically accessible to low-income communities. We cannot afford to let utility companies determine the needs of and solutions to low-income communities.
We are happy to announce that as a result of our action, the Public Service Commission has confirmed that they will be holding public hearings in Poughkeepsie, NYC, Buffalo, and Glen Falls.
Read more in Capital New York’s article here: http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/08/8573173/low-income-advocates-want-more-say-energy-plan
We also wrote an opinion piece with the Center for Social Inclusion, which was published in the Poughkeepsie Journal and the Hudson Valley News Network. The article focused on a ten-year plan being proposed by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) that aims to invest in more sustainable energy. We explored the emerging plan’s potential to both help and hurt low-income communities of color and offered suggestions for creating a more equitable plan—geographically, financially, and racially:
Fundraising and Grant Writing
We received a Zickler Family Foundation grant for $2,500 for the third consecutive year.
We need volunteers to help with our end of the year fundraising drive. If you might be interested in helping us, please email us back for more information!