census data, livie in poverty, even the smallest increase in utility bills can have serious ramifications.
"A few dollars here, and a few there can really affect low-income households," said Stephanie Chen, legal fellow at the Greenlining Institute, a public policy research and advocacy group. "It can mean the difference between 'Do I pay the power bill, or do I buy groceries?'"
Utility bills are not a discretionary expense, and, as unemployment continues to rise and adjustable rate mortgages continue to adjust upward, more households are finding themselves squeezed on all sides. Depending on timing and cash flow, Chen said it would be easy to imagine a formerly stable household unable to pay the utility bill.
And if a household can't pay the bill for two weeks, PG&E sends a notice of termination and shuts off power. According to Spatt, PG&E shuts off 15,000 households in its service area each month.
"Rate hikes are certainly not going to bring down that number," she said. "These are not people who can't pay for a Mercedes and got it repossessed. They are people who are losing heat, electricity, the ability to cook."
To turn the power back on, PG&E requires a deposit of twice the average bill to reestablish credit. If a household can't pay its regular bill, paying twice the amount is even harder.
Spatt says TURN is working to push the CPUC to do something about this and help consumers who are struggling. Chen says utility companies already know their customers are hurting during the recession.
"All the utilities are facing decaying infrastructure concerns and renewable energy goals," Chen said. "They are facing increased costs, which they pass on to ratepayers. We know rate increases are inevitable but we want to make sure they are necessary and cost-effective."
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