Support legislation to help Floridians keep the lights on during pandemic
Previously published in the Orlando Sentinel on April 3, 2021.
More than 42,000 Florida households currently have no electricity. Can you imagine living in the dark? Thousands of our fellow Floridians currently have no water running at home, so they cannot wash their hands or drink from the tap. Living like this must be awful and immensely stressful. We can do something about this statewide problem.
Due to the economic decline caused by COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of people across the state continue to struggle to find work and afford basic necessities that everyone should have, like water and electricity.
Every month during this seemingly everlasting pandemic, utility companies continue to disconnect over 100,000 Florida homes from electricity because of nonpayment. Utilities have disconnected over 420,000 households since September 2020. But there is hope: SB 1860 by Sen. Shevrin Jones and HB 1435 by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith can bring much-needed help to these struggling families.
This legislation would provide $100 million in funding for a grant program for electric and water utility providers to relieve the debts of households that fall behind on payments. The utility companies that receive this money would have to stop disconnecting customers from water or power until 2022, and would seek to reconnect households that are still disconnected. The new federal COVID-19 relief law will send Florida billions in aid. A portion of those dollars should pay for this program.
For Florida’s vulnerable populations in particular, this could be lifesaving. Countless seniors and people with long-term health problems depend on medical devices that use electricity. Without electricity, they could experience severe health consequences.
Additionally, access to running water is essential in combating COVID-19. When someone is disconnected by their utility provider because they can’t pay their bill, they cannot practice sanitation guidelines like hand washing at home. Many are experiencing this layered consequence of COVID-19 — not only did they lose their job because of the virus, but they are now at a higher risk of contracting it.
The legislation also comes at a time when utility bills could increase and become even harder for Floridians to afford. At a time when so many Floridians have lost their jobs, Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility, is actively seeking approval of rate increases. Its proposal calls for approximately $2 billion in rate increases over the coming years. In December alone, this same utility cut off 104,199 families from power due to their inability to pay — leaving them in the dark during the holiday season. The increase in rates, coupled with the lasting impacts of this pandemic, will create a crisis within a crisis for so many families.
Please take a few minutes to call your legislators and ask them to support and co-sponsor Senate Bill 1860 and House Bill 1435. No Floridian should have their water or electricity cut off simply because of their inability to pay. Let’s use the power that we have to speak up for our neighbors in need during this time of crisis.