Art Handy wrote a great op/ed piece on Rhode Islanders battling utilities during the winter months and the My Home Energy Rate Affordability Act which will help those who need it.
Every fall, families throughout Rhode Island struggle to pull together enough money to get their utilities turned on before the cold months. Each winter, we hear about another fire caused by a family keeping warm with their oven after losing their heat. More and more we hear about children struggling at school because they can’t sleep in their frigid apartments. Emergency rooms deal with the consequences of a system that allows children to go months without heat and electricity.
In the last year, over 30,000 homes – a record high – had either gas or electricity shut off. While many shutoffs are in the cities, the affluent communities are also affected: in Westerly 612 homes were shut off. East Greenwich had 270, Barrington 118, Newport 811, even Little Compton had 30. This problem isn’t happening somewhere else; it’s in your community.
Currently, all winter long, even if they can make payments, few families can keep up with their current bills and even fewer can make headway into eliminating the old debt. The result is that most end the winter in even greater debt and have their utilities shut off again when the moratorium ends.
A side effect of this cycle is that most available heating assistance is aimed at paying just enough to get utilities restored before winter. There is simply not enough money to help customers become current. Each year rising energy costs and the growth of that debt mean it costs more for the customer to reach the point where power is restored. This hopeless cycle leaves more than 30,000 Rhode Island households exposed to the risk of a cold, powerless winter every year and exhausts public assistance funds.