New Yorkers Face Possible Utility Shut-Offs Days Before Christmas
More than a million New Yorkers could face having their heat, lights or water shut off starting December 22nd. The New York Energy Democracy Alliance, a group of advocacy organizations, is calling for state action to help those months behind on utility bills. Organizing Director Amber Johnson said just three days before Christmas New Yorkers are having to decide on paying their rent or utility bills.
“You have to pick and choose what’s more important, and, you know, do I want to be housed before Christmas or do I want electricity? And which one can I keep together? And usually people say house,” Johnson said.
Starting last June, COVID effects allowed for a 180-day pause on shut offs. But that protection ran out December 20th. Johnson estimates the average debt of those behind on their bills is about 13-hundred dollars. The advocacy groups have come together to sign a petition urging New York Governor Kathy Hochul to act.
“There need to be some sort of emergency legislation or directive towards the public service commission to really cancel all these debts, right? There’s about 1.2 million New Yorkers more than 60 days behind their bills. That means there’s 1.2 million that could get a shut off the 22nd. So there has to be some sort of emergency action take,” she said.
ASSISTANCE FOR THOSE FACING UTILITY DEBT
The state Department of Public Service, meanwhile, is encouraging homeowners and renters to seek help through existing state programs.
- The state Home Energy Assistance Program – or HEAP – can help with heating costs for those who qualify.
- New York’s Energy Affordability Policy – or EAP - is a similar program for electricity and gas through the utilities themselves. This resource requires major electric and natural gas utilities to discount a monthly bill for those who are income eligible.
- There are also programs, like the Low-Income Household Assistance Program (LIKWAP), providing up to 25-hundered dollars for overdue water bills through local social services departments.
- For those who find themselves in a drinking water emergency, the local Department of Social Services can also be a resource.
Johnson said, however, those programs are insufficient. And she adds many of those currently struggling haven’t been in debt before and don’t know how to sign up for such assistance. She encourages those in fear of their utilities being cut off to not suffer in silence, spread the word of the cut offs, and work as a community.