Opinion: We must all help | My turn
Last week the front page Taos News The article “Unpaid utility bills could be bailed out by HB-206” has given hope to many. However, this bill sponsored by Kristina Ortez was not heard in the Senate Finance Committee until the end of the legislative session. Meanwhile, as Luis Reyes / CEO of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative reported last week, nearly 900 disconnection warning notices have been sent and more are on their way. These notices are sent to our neighbors and friends, also members and co-owners of KCEC.
Is this how we want our co-owners to be treated? Threatened to disconnect in a few days? Kit Carson cannot legally log out due to the New Mexico State Public Regulatory Council moratorium, but that was lifted on March 20. For small co-ops, customers have 45 days before they can be legally disconnected. May 4th is the first KCEC can legally disconnect anyone. Kit Carson doesn’t want to disconnect anyone, but the use of threats does not serve a higher purpose. People panic, believing what is stated on the notice (sent in English only). We heard about a member who sold his oxygen tank to pay his bill because without electricity he can’t use oxygen anyway. Others take payday loans, sell things, or take items to pawn shops.
If you have a disconnection notice, please call Kit Carson at 575-751-9064 to speak to an employee who can help you set up a monthly plan. The payment plan must be realistic. When we discussed a disconnection notice from a Taos Immigrant Allies customer, we were told that they had not paid for about a year. As we all know, this year has been unlike any we have seen in a century. The pandemic has put many people out of work or drastically reduced working hours. At the same time, the children come home from school, on the Internet and more electricity is needed to heat themselves. Money is needed for rent, gas and telephone bills, and food. There may also be medical bills, auto repair bills, etc. There are many reasons why bills are overdue.
We must recognize that the economic situation of the lowest income group will not be resolved quickly. Many in our community will not be able to return to their pre-pandemic condition for years to come, and that was not a good thing before the pandemic. Even though they have jobs, many workers do not earn a living wage. Those living in poverty pay a higher percentage of their income for rent, utilities and other mandatory needs, making it increasingly difficult to get out of poverty.
On March 31, federal eviction restrictions (CDC) will also be lifted for those who are behind on rent. Homelessness was a major problem before the pandemic; it’s about to become a much bigger problem.
Mr. Reyes is working with the New Mexico Financial Authority to secure rent and utility relief from unspent CARES state funds in 2020. It has been extremely difficult in our cash economy for some to qualify. in connection with requests for these funds, because many do not. have written leases, pay stubs or landlords accepting a W-9. As a result, most official relief programs target middle to low income groups.
KCEC has its own complicated issues, like closing corporate accounts and paying tri-state. According to Kit Carson, some members have the money and just didn’t pay because they knew they couldn’t be logged out under the moratorium. For those who have enough money to pay their bill, please do so. It is necessary to keep Kit Carson functioning.
Many of us are hopeful that Taos County and Taos City will strongly consider helping those in need, as have other counties and cities across the state. Counties and cities will receive money from the American Rescue Plan.
If anyone in our community is hurting, we all suffer. The pandemic has made economic inequalities more striking. Taos nonprofits have worked tirelessly to help those in need. They cannot solve everything on their own. We all need to help as much as possible. Please consider donating to the charity of your choice if you can. I can assure you that your donation will be greatly appreciated, especially by our neighbors and friends in need.
Del Endres, MD is a member of the Taos Allied Immigrant Committee and a longtime resident of Taos.