Gov. Cuomo proposes protections preventing utility disconnections during cold winter
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday proposed new protections to prevent utility disconnections, as one of the century’s three worst economic downturns pushes residents deeper into poverty and makes others struggle anew.
In his 2021 State of the State address, Cuomo proposed prohibiting utility disconnections in coronavirus hotspots – those under a state of emergency – plus potential penalties for electric, gas, water and telecommunications providers that heedlessly disconnect consumers.
“Moratoriums (on utility disconnections) are great, but at some point they will end and the holes people will be in without enough assistance will be much deeper and harder to climb out of,” said Michele McKeon, chief operating officer of the Regional Economic Community Action Program, a Middletown nonprofit. “People are struggling and struggling mightily, and it’s now worse because of the pandemic.”
The Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan has so far raised more than $600,000 for its COVID-19 Response Fund, which helps fund local nonprofits, including those assisting people with utility bills.
“People are having to make some really difficult decisions, especially if they have children,” said Elizabeth Rowley, the foundation's president and CEO. “I remember when we started this fund (in March) our committee said, ‘thank God it’s not the winter.’”
The governor's proposal comes as the pandemic has newly pushed 5,000 children in Orange County, 1,000 in Sullivan County and 2,000 in Ulster County into poverty, plus another 4,000 in Dutchess, 14,000 in Westchester and 4,000 in Rockland counties, according to a recent study.
All told, 771,200 New Yorkers are currently unemployed with some among the 7.8 million Americans who've slipped into poverty since the summer. A whopping 410,565 Hudson Valley residents claimed December unemployment benefits.
Under state edict until March 31, utilities and municipalities are required to offer deferred payment agreements (with no money down, late fees or penalties) to avoid service disconnections.
“We are committed to helping our customers get through this difficult time," said Mike Donovan, a spokesman with Orange & Rockland, one of the Hudson Valley's biggest utility providers. “We will continue to work with all of our customers to help them bring their accounts current with customizable payment agreements.”