July 27, 2010
I couldn’t find statistics for local utility shut offs in my area, but I knew we would start to see more and more of this.
Houses everywhere are going vacant. People don’t say goodbye, they don’t leave a number, they just disappear. With their disappearance we add another vacant house to the street. But families living in housing without utilities is a new sight for me to behold. I spoke recently with a rep from So Cal Edison who, full time contacts residence who have had their electricity turned off due to non payment. She has a negotiator sent in and they work on a reduced payment. It’s amazing to me, that now, it is becoming acceptable in California to camp out in your home.
People are losing their homes, losing their cars and losing their dignity. How are we going to afford kids clothes and school supplies for the coming year? How can we expect families to pay for all these additional costs when the economy is in the shape it in. I ask myself this everyday.
Requests for help paying utility bills surge upward
Light switches, furnaces and water faucets aren’t the typical gauges of economic health, but at Pikes Peak United Way’s 2-1-1 call center, they tell a tale of people who continue to struggle to pay their bills in a weak economy.
According to a report released Monday by the 2-1-1 Information and Referral Hotline, requests for utility bill assistance in the fiscal year ending June 30 jumped 20 percent from the previous year, outstripping requests for help with food and rent.
“That’s by far the biggest spike in looking at data year-to-year,” said 2-1-1 Center Manager Jessica Johnson-Simmons. “I would guess it would have something to do with recent utility hikes that have gone into effect, but it’s also a case of clients just getting too overwhelmed with their…
I feel horrible; I know my kids must feel horrible,” said Maria Schultheis, who lives in the house with her husband and twin teenage sons. “I’m humiliated because I never had to live like this.”
The town water department shut off the Schultheises’ water about a month ago after the family fell behind on payments on a $1,700 overdue bill. John Schultheis — a computer programmer who has been out of work for three years — watched in disbelief as town workers turned off the water valve near the curb of his three-bedroom bungalow in a quiet middle-class neighborhood in the Lake Hiawatha section of Parsippany.
As the recession continues, utility companies say a growing number of New Jerseyans are falling behind on their electric, gas and water bills. For many, a flood of emergency funding in state and federal aid programs — coupled with a state-imposed moratorium on utility shut-offs during the winter months — has helped keep the lights on and the water flowing over the last few months.
But, with much of the state money gone and the winter moratorium ended, utility officials say more and more families like the Schultheises may be losing their electricity, gas or water service in the coming months.
“I do expect shut-off activity to increase the second part of the year,” said Victor Viscomi, PSE&G’s director of billing and revenue operations. “Some of the emergency-payment assistance money is drying up.”
PSE&G, the state’s largest utility, has seen a 10 percent increase in families behind on their payments, compared with this time last year, Viscomi said. Many of those are households that had never had a late payment until now.