Thursday, August 7, 2008

Utility Shut-offs Rising

Crossposted from our new home blog,They gave us a republic...

When was the last time anyone talking about the fact that unemployment is the highest that it has been in four years? It's now at 5.7%. When was the last time you heard anyone talking about the impact of bankruptcy shutdowns for large retailers. And another one-time stimulus payout isn't the solution:

Utility shut-offs for customers behind on their energy bills are increasing around the country, reaching 50% or more in some hard-hit areas, as the effects of rising prices and a sagging economy are beginning to drag down more vulnerable consumers.

Agencies that provide financial assistance for energy costs report long waiting lists and significant jumps in first-time applicants. With the prospect of much more serious trouble this winter, when bills traditionally are higher, Congress is exploring a significant increase in federal energy assistance as part of a second economic stimulus plan scheduled for consideration next month.

Why doesn't the Congress look into fully funding those agencies? How about we try that for a change? The last stimulus check giveaway sure was good for the porn industry, wasn't it? Hopefully, they'll find a way to do something smarter with the money this time.

Many of the customers that are shut-off are, likely, people who have had their homes taken away in foreclosure:

In Michigan, which had the nation's highest unemployment rate in June -- 8.5% -- Detroit-based DTE Energy reported a 56% increase in utility shut-offs for nonpayment of bills for the first five months of this year compared with the same period a year ago.

Southern California Edison Co. reported that service was shut off to about 165,000 of its 4.8 million customer accounts from January through May this year, a 14% increase from the same period in 2007.

In Orange County, "people are coming to our office in record numbers with very high utility bills," said Kathy Kifaya, director of energy and environmental services for the Community Action Partnership of Orange County, which provides financial aid for energy costs to low-income families.

In Illinois, Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, which serve Chicago and its northern suburbs, reported a 33% increase in disconnections through July of this year, compared with the same period last year. Across the Mississippi River in Iowa, a record number of residential accounts were past due in June, said Jerry McKim, chief of the state's energy assistance program, and more would have been shut off if not for floods that prevented utility workers from reaching homes.

"It's pretty pathetic when the only thing saving someone from disconnection is being flooded out," he said.

California's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., reported that service had been shut off to 163,700 customers for nonpayment through July of this year, up 6.1% from the same period a year ago. Southern California Gas Co. said that notices of late payments were up 17% from January through May compared with the same period last year, and disconnections were up 10%.

Awful. Just awful. Fall is just around the corner, and I wonder if this is the winter when we'll hear more stories about people freezing to death or starving because they cannot make ends meet in this wonderful economy of ours.

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