AARP and PULP: Governor Hochul Must Address Utility Arrears Crisis in Budget Amendment
New York energy utility customer debts have jumped by $1 billion since February 2020 and now total $1.7 billion
ALBANY—AARP New York and the Public Utility Law Project (“PULP”) this week repeated their call to Governor Kathy Hochul to address the crisis of unpaid utility bills. In a letter, AARP and PULP asked the Governor to amend her 2022-2023 Executive Budget proposal to use federal and state funds to help New Yorkers behind on their energy, water, telephone and high-speed internet bills.
Nearly 1.3 million New York households were more than $1.7 million in arrears on energy bills in December 2021 according to New York State Public Service Commission (“PSC”) data analyzed by PULP. An untold number of New Yorkers are behind on water, phone and internet bills—figures not tracked by the PSC.
“More than one million New York households are in utility debt, and the COVID-19 pandemic has turned this problem into a crisis,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. “Many will spend years playing catchup as they choose between groceries and heat or medicine and lights. With New York State’s budget plan running surpluses, AARP is disappointed that Governor Hochul’s plan could leave millions in the cold.”
“Utility arrears in New York have increased by over $1 billion since COVID-19 struck our state, evidence that the economic devastation of low-, fixed-, and newly-low-income families is far from over. These 1.3 million households now owe utilities more than they have any ability to pay due to loss of employment, increased childcare and medical costs, or other unprecedented COVID-related challenges,” said Public Utility Law Project Executive Director Richard Berkley. “We will continue to urge Governor Hochul to put sufficient financial support in her Budget to erase the unparalleled arrears caused by the pandemic and resolve this crisis because otherwise, the finances of many of New York’s communities and millions of low-income/fixed-income residents will be unable to recover for years to come.”
AARP and PULP asked the Governor to amend her budget proposal to dedicate $1.25 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds to address most of the energy utility arrears and to propose legislation authorizing $200 million for a dollar-for-dollar state sales tax reallocation to be available for non-energy utilities that forgive arrears for low- or fixed- income households.
The organizations also urged Governor Hochul to work with the Legislature to direct the PSC to develop and implement a meaningful and workable utility arrears resolution program and to extend the moratorium on shutoffs for all utility customers until June 30, 2022. The moratorium would protect customers behind on their bills from shutoffs for the remainder of winter as state leaders finalize the budget.
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation’s largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org/nearyou, or follow @AARPNY on social media.
PULP is New York’s sole independent organization dedicated to empowering and protecting the rights of low-income and fixed-income utility consumers. For 40 years, PULP has educated, advocated and litigated on behalf of affordability, consumer protection and universal access to utilities. To learn more, visit www.utilityproject.org, follow @utilityproject on Twitter, or visit PULP at www.facebook.com/utilityproject.