As we welcome the cooler weather of winter, I think about those who will be struggling to stay warm and pay their winter heating bills. Just a few weeks ago, two men died in their Kennesaw home because they couldn’t afford to pay their power bill. Georgia Power shut off their power, and with temperatures dropping near freezing, they borrowed a generator from a neighbor to keep the electricity on. Unfortunately, generators create carbon monoxide – a silent killer.
This is heartbreaking and happens far too often. Stories like this are the ones that make our work here at Georgia Watch so critical. The ability of someone to afford their utility bills can result in a life or death situation.
Georgia Watch advocates tirelessly for Georgia Power’s 2.3 million customers and Atlanta Gas Light Company’s 1.5 million customers who are often put in this type of situation. We work for lower, fair utility rates, and we stand up for residential and small business customers. We speak up for everyday Georgians, not special interests. The utilities and large customers are well represented by lobbyists and lawyers in the halls of the capitol and at the Public Service Commission.
Throughout 2011, Georgia Watch achieved many victories for consumers including fighting against unjust rate increases, lessening the impact of additional charges on customers’ bills, and advocating for assistance to help low-income seniors. As a direct result of Georgia Watch’s efforts, the Public Service Commission disbursed $5 million to help people in need pay their winter heating bills. Without our voice at the table, the scales of justice would tilt heavily against consumers.
Our state and our nation are still facing economic uncertainty. Georgia continues to lead the nation in unemployment, bankruptcy, and foreclosure, and recently our state’s capitol made national headlines: “Atlanta, Georgia, has widest income gap between rich and poor of all the major US cities, the US Census reported.” According to US Census data, 1 in 15 Americans are now amongst the poorest poor; in 2010 that meant an income of $5,570 or less for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four. These are often working poor and seniors – people trying to keep their head above water.
Now more than ever, Georgians need a relentless advocate in their corner. It is vital to ensure fairness and to hold those elected accountable. Recently, citizens across the country have expressed their dissatisfaction with the big banks and greed on Wall Street. Families and businesses are hurting and feel they aren’t being represented. They’re seeking a voice and someone to hear their concerns and honestly represent their interests.
Who is the watchful eye under the Gold dome in Georgia as the average citizen goes about his or her daily life getting to work, dropping the kids off at school, and figuring out what’s for dinner? Most Georgians can’t meet with hospital leadership to ensure they’re receiving the financial assistance for medical care they need and deserve. The average citizen does not have the time to attend Public Service Commission hearings where billion dollar cases are decided that impact our state’s economy and the environment. Georgia Watch can. For the past ten years, we have been the eyes and ears looking out for the everyday Georgian.
The political noise of the 2012 elections is ratcheting up, but campaign promises are empty if they’re not kept. If there has ever been a time in our history that the people need a voice, it’s now. With 2011 coming to a close, we here at Georgia Watch ask that you support our work with a donation so we can continue serving as your voice in 2012 and beyond.
– Angela Speir Phelps