LOCAL News :: Civil & Human Rights : Housing : Labor & Class

No Gas Cut-Offs through March 31

Good news Richmond! When you get your bills this month, you can know that the Department of Public Utilities will not cut off anyone’s gas this winter. This is a new policy that was started in November of 2005. This information, however, was only made public at a City Council meeting last night, after supporters of a moratorium made the DPU present their actual policy. Thanks to the Defenders for Freedom Justice and Equality, a Richmond-based community group, it is now public knowledge that there will be no gas cut-offs through March 31st.
When Rita Dyson-House stepped up to the microphone last night she made an important request to the members of City Council. Representing the Defenders, Rita spoke with conviction, calling on the representatives to approve a moratorium on gas cut-offs during the winter period. Last year, between December 21st and March 20 there were 1,713 gas cut-offs to homes of Richmond residents. While Rita was at the microphone about 20 supporters of the moratorium held up newspapers with a headline in bold that read 'NO GAS CUT-OFFS!' She said that her role is "to make sure that those in power know the pulse of the community", and pointed out the dangers to health (cold temperatures) and physical security (fire hazards from space heaters) that gas cut-offs present.

After the eloquent statements in favor of a moratorium, the actual facts of the city's policies came into question. Dolores McQuinn, of the 7th district was quick to respond, claiming that the no cut-off policy is already in place. Phil Wilayto, another member of the Defenders, stood up to correct her with information given to him by the Department of Public Utilities last week, that the no cut-off policy is only applicable to people over the age of 65, or while there are temperatures below freezing.

Following some speculation among the councilmembers of what the actual policy is, they eventually directed Mark Mclean, of the public relations office for the Department of Public Utilities, to meet with Rita and Phil. Outside the courtroom, it was discovered that the confusion over the actual policy was comming from inside the DPU. It seems that since November of 2005, the DPU has had a policy of no gas cut-offs in place, however, has been keeping this information quiet. Until last night this information was not available to reporters or community organizations let alone working class families struggling to get by.

So some credit has to be given to the DPU, who changed the policy this year in order to meet people's needs. However, this service could hardly be utilized to its full potential without public knowledge of it. The benefits of knowing this are that families can now prioritize their payments with more awareness of the effects of their actions. Knowledge of this policy provides breathing room for families crunched for cash. Thanks again to the Defenders for keeping their fingers on pulse of Richmond’s working-class.