A recent report of the Fiscal Policy Institute prepared for Gov. David Paterson's "Economic Security Cabinet," which is looking at the plight of low-income families, shows that wages of 30% of New Yorkers in working families do not cover basic household needs.
Those basic needs, of course, include essential home energy and utility services - typically electricity, telecommunications, and natural gas or other heating fuels. These costs are imposing heavy burdens on low income households.
Since the recent closure of the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) in May, PULP is hearing of more instances of utility customers who simply cannot make ends meet, who are facing termination of utility service due to large overdue bills. Utility low income rates and other programs, and state financial assistance programs, provide substantial assistance, but are flawed and need to be strengthened, particularly in light of rising prices. See High Natural Gas Prices Signal Trouble Next Winter for Low Income Customers.
Fortunately, the Governor's "Economic Security Cabinet" includes the Chairman of the Public Service Commission. See Governor Includes Public Service Commission in Economic Security Cabinet. The PSC needs to step up to the plate to help stem the growing affordability gap for low income utility consumers. There is much the PSC could do:
1. Improve utility low income rates of electricity and natural gas, with larger rate reductions and broader participation. See Utility Rate-Making to Meet the Needs of Low and Fixed Income New Yorkers
2. Rejuvenate New York's telephone Lifeline program which has lost more than 400,000 participants in recent years, who no longer receive rate reductions worth about $12 per month. See Assembly Passes Bill to Expand Low-Income Telephone Lifeline Assistance.
3. Expand and improve low income energy efficiency programs. See PULP Urges NYSERDA to Use RGGI Auction Revenue to Support Low Income Energy Efficiency Programs.
4. Vigorously enforce the Home Energy Fair Practices Act to advance the state policy of continuous service without unreasonable qualification.
5. Establish incentives for utilities to reduce service interruption as a collection tactic
For further information about town hall meetings of the Economic Security Cabinet and its other activities, see the New York State Economic Security Forum.