The following press release was issued earlier today by the Sierra Club.
Coalition calls for WA to protect low-income utility users during COVID fallout
Robin Everett, Senior Organizing Manager – Sierra Club, 206-713-5474
Wendy Gerlitz, Policy Director – Northwest Energy Coalition, 503-449-0009
Katrina Peterson, Climate Justice Program Manager – Puget Sound Sage, 206-485-7550
Today, more than 60 environmental, labor and social justice groups are calling for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to extend the moratorium preventing public and private utilities from shutting off essential services like energy, water and telecommunications to their ratepayers. The current moratorium expires on Monday, May 4.
The full letter, including a list of organizations that have endorsed, is HERE.
In addition to protecting low-income Washington residents from losing essential services during this period of economic disruption and unemployment, the letter calls for stronger protections for low-income utility ratepayers, including more funding for low-income energy assistance and policies that encourage utilities to adopt more flexible credit and collections practices.
While most of the state’s utilities promised to halt shut-offs following the COVID outbreak, few utilities have indicated how and when they expect to collect unpaid bills in the coming months. This leaves Washington’s low-income families at risk of having to pay multiple months worth of utility bills at once, at a time when unemployment claims in the state are expected to surpass 1 million.
Nationwide, utility bills are one of the top reasons that people take out predatory payday loans. Nearly one in 3 US households struggle to pay their energy bills and 1 in 5 reported reducing or forgoing necessities such as food and medicine to pay an energy bill.
Low income energy bill assistance is available to households that make at or below 125% of the federal poverty level through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. As of 2016, more than 122,000 Washington households utilized the program, though estimates show that is only about 25% of eligible households. Under the terms of Washington state’s 2019 Clean Energy Transformation Act, utilities are required to show that they are reaching more low-income families – 60% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.
“Before COVID-19 hit, Indigenous, Black, and Brown families in our community were already struggling to pay their energy bills, sometimes choosing between paying the rent and keeping the lights on,” said Katrina Peterson, Climate Justice Program Manager at Puget Sound Sage. “What could be worse in a public health crisis than people who’ve lost their job also losing their water and electricity? We need the governor to stand by our communities by stopping utility shut-offs and providing bill relief.”
“Amid this crisis there are many thousands of people in Washington who are sincerely trying to meet their obligations while also trying to take care of their families. Our goal must be to help them do both,” said Wendy Gerlitz, Policy Director at the NW Energy Coalition. “For them, the threat of also losing access to electricity or water isn’t motivating, it’s debilitating. Extending the moratorium on utility shut-offs is both a practical and humane way of allowing them to recover financially and emotionally in what for many is a soul-crushing and dangerous time.”
“This is an unprecedented crisis, with almost 1 million Washingtonians out of work and millions more seeing reduced hours and income,” said Jesse Piedfort, Director of the Sierra Club Washington state Chapter. “Gov. Inslee took the important step of making sure that low-income households aren’t losing access to water, electricity or phone service during this trying time, but the economic fallout is sure to last for months or years. Now is the time to ensure that our neighbors aren’t forced to choose between keeping the lights on and putting food on the table.”
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.