On Thursday, the New York State Senate Mid-Hudson Valley delegation, including Senators Elijah-Reichlin-Melnick (D-38), James Skoufis (D39), Pete Harckham (D-40) and Michelle Hinchey (D-46), and the Public Utility Law Project of New York (“PULP”), held a free virtual information session to educate residents about their utility rights. This is of particular importance during the statewide “bill surges” coming in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, where nearly 1.3 million New York households – or about one in five New Yorkers – are sixty days or more behind on their energy bills, and owe more than $1.7 billion in arrears.
The presentation and audience questions focused upon the ongoing Central Hudson Gas and Electric and Orange and Rockland Utilities’ “bill surges,” which have doubled or tripled ratepayers’ bills and made already unaffordable energy even worse for low- and fixed-income consumers. The bill surges’ effects are worsened by Central Hudson’s recent failed billing system upgrade, which has hampered the utility’s ability to provide accurate and timely billing information to its ratepayers for many months. For some Orange and Rockland customers, the price spike follows a double-digit increase granted to Suez Water Company in July of 2020, after New York’s economy had cratered due to COVID-19.
Consumers should alert their utility company if they are struggling to make a payment, particularly if their financial distress is caused by COVID-19, and ask the representative to note the account as such. We strongly encourage that consumers also apply for Home Energy Assistance Program (“HEAP”) and Emergency HEAP, the Regular Arrears Supplement (“RAS”), and the Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program (“ERAP”), which are available to help pay arrears and work on getting current with utility bills. Consumers should apply for the RAS program with haste, as applications will no longer be accepted following March 15.
Consumers can also discuss setting up a deferred payment arrangement with the utility company, which will protect the account and consumer’s credit while allowing them to pay the past due amount over time. Finally, a customer can call PULP’s hotline at 877-669-2572 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for further assistance.
A full recording of this utility rights forum is available at Skoufis.NYSenate.gov.