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Sacramento May 30, 2017 – With utility bills rising, more and more California consumers face the dire threat of being shut off from essential heat, light and hot water. In 2016, 868,000 households in California were shut off, impacting over 2.5 million people, most of whom are children. TURN thinks that is 2.5 million too many, and is a sponsor of Senator Ben Hueso’s (D- San Diego) SB 598. Senate Bill 598 aims to reduce shutoffs, which threaten the health and safety of many in our communities. It would also forbid shutting off customers with serious medical conditions. Under current law, even customers on life support can be left in the dark.

“The California Public Utilities Commission has allowed utility bills to skyrocket without regard to the urgent health and safety problems created by shutoffs, which are especially threatening for individuals with serious medical conditions,” said Mark Toney, executive director of TURN. “As a result, more and more Californians, already struggling against a lack of affordable housing are also unable to afford basics like heat and light.”

Utility shutoffs disproportionately threaten the health of children, low-income families, communities of color, people for whom English is a second language, as well as seniors and people with serious medical conditions or disabilities.

“The loss of basic utility services brings tremendous hardship and stress to individuals living with life threatening medical conditions,” said Senator Hueso.  “This bill will protect our most vulnerable and guarantee their safety by ensuring their lights stay on.”

A shutoff can have immediate health consequences for individuals, including life-support equipment failure (e.g., respirators, hemodialysis machines, motorized wheelchairs, etc.), hyperthermia, and heat stroke. The loss of electricity or gas service can also increase the risk of pneumonia, bronchitis, colds, and other illnesses, especially for individuals with serious illnesses or otherwise compromised immune systems.

SB 598 also requires the CPUC to give consumer impacts more consideration before approving rate hikes. “Right now, the CPUC is making crucial decisions that impact basic affordability in the dark,” said Toney. “TURN is committed to putting consumers front and center in debates over higher rates.”

Senate Bill 598 has widespread support from community-based organizations and health service professionals, including:

  • Alameda County Public Health Department
  • Housing Long Beach (Long Beach)
  • Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (San Bernardino)
  • Centro La Familia Advocacy (Fresno)
  • Fathers and Families of San Joaquin (Stockton)
  • Leadership Institute at Allen Temple (Oakland)
  • Centro Legal de La Raza (Oakland)
  • Greenlining Institute (Oakland)
  • City Heights Community Development Corporation (San Diego)