More than a million New Yorkers threatened with shutting down public services in April

Throughout New York State, more than 1.2 million residential gas and electric customers are 60 days or more behind on their utility bills. The total debt owed—nearly $1.8 billion— has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. These households are all at risk of having their utilities shut down on April 15 as New York’s utility shut-off protections expire.

The Public Utility Law Project (PULP) believes that there is more than a billion dollars in debt in telephone, internet and water services each. Together, that amounts to nearly $4.8 billion in missed payments for utilities during the pandemic that residents are responsible for with the end of this moratorium.

In the spring of 2020, New York passed a moratorium on utility shutdowns, protecting access to heat, water, gas, electricity, internet, and phone services early in the pandemic. New York lawmakers have allowed this COVID-19 protection to quietly expire on December 21.cold seasonwhich ends on April 15.

It could trigger the biggest wave of utility cuts the city has ever seen. In response, state officials encouraged residents to apply for the statewide program. Home Energy Assistance Program (TAS). This program can provide up to $751 for heating assistance. However, this program is Only available households that already receive government assistance and/or whose income is at or below 130% of the federal poverty level.

Another avenue for utility assistance – the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) –short of funding back in September 2021. There are people who have been approved for this program and are still waiting to receive financial assistance as their bills continue to rise. Through this program, only 359 New York households received help from the public services until December. It was the lowest number in the country. By contrast, Texas had provided utility assistance to more than 120,000 households during the same period.

New York and Westchester are home to over 400,000 of these vulnerable residents, who collectively owe nearly $820 million in utility bills alone. Low-income communities, communities of color and seniors will be hardest hit by utility cuts, just as they have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic since its onset.

In November, PULP and the American Associations of Retired Persons (AARP), the Asian American Federation, the Hispanic Federation and other groups sent a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers warning them of the impending crisis.

“[H]Households across the state have been plunged into intractable debt that could take a decade or more to resolve,” the letter said. “This debt will affect credit, force New Yorkers to choose between medical expenses, food or utility arrears, and reduce economic activity that is essential to keep New York communities and small businesses viable. “

The organizations then urged state lawmakers to allocate a share federal pandemic assistance to bail out these residents. Specifically, defenders claim $1.25 billion for unpaid energy bills, $400 million for water bills and $200 million in tax credits to cancel water, phone and internet bills. Governor Hochul’s current budget proposal includes $2 billion in COVID-19 relief, but details of how the money will be allocated have yet to be determined. the deadline for lawmakers to set the budget was April 1, just two weeks before the potential shutdown.

Public services stop another attack on the working class

The risk of a cut in public services is just the latest attack on New York’s working class and poor. The city’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium expired Jan. 15, leaving hundreds of thousands residents threatened with eviction. Residents can still apply for an ERAP today, as they have an open application prevent them from being expelled whatever funds are available.

Even more recently, the Mayor of New York, Eric Adams, has authorized more than 240 street sweeps across the boroughs, destroying the homes and belongings of the city’s homeless. Adams does this because he says the efforts are aimed at pushing homeless people into shelters offering “health[ier] living conditions,” despite many reports on the contrary.

This crisis also comes shortly after New York’s gas and electric providers came under fire for skyrocketing bills over the past winter season, seeing prices rise as much as 121% in one month. In response to their customers’ outrage, Consolidated Edison executives say they are currently “review their billing practices.” Residents affected by this price increase can request TAS.

Enough is enough

Across the country, politicians and legislators are end pandemic-era protections, leaving the working class with billions of dollars in debt during a time of rising rents, hyperinflation and food shortages.

Organizers, however, are determined to fight these nationwide shutdowns.

“The lack of adequate social and financial support during the pandemic, and now the inflation crisis, has left communities in desperate need of relief,” Sameena Rahman said in a recent article for Release News. “It is time these temporary relief programs were cemented into permanent social programs and removed the power of greedy landlords, utility companies and banks to cause widespread suffering in communities across the country.”

Enough is enough! We must unite and demand that these utility debts be cancelled!

Julio V. Miller