Easton's freshmen Representative Anne Hughes and Bethel freshman Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan have called for the legislature to pass a bill introduced but not passed in 2012 that would result in smaller benefits to fewer Connecticut families and would move the burden of paying for damages from the utility companies instead to utility customers.
Ms. Hughes' proposal would replace the current law, 12-148, which was passed in 2012 unanimously with bipartisan support instead with House Bill 5542, which failed to come up for a vote and was instead replaced with Senate Bill 23 that is our current law.
John Shaban, who is running to unseat Ms. Hughes in the 135th District, had this to say about her proposal to revive House Bill 5542 "Like so many other bills and proposals, the devil is in the details. Sadly too many of my 'progressive' colleagues jump quickly to make grand statements without doing the research or math to support them. A straight reimbursement for lost SNAP benefits is quicker, helps more people, and is subject to our existing accounting system."
The current law provides more benefits to more families with less delay, less red tape and from funds taken from shareholders rather than passed on to utility customers. The bill called for by Ms. Hughes reduces benefits, reduces the number of families that would qualifiy for benefits, increases the delay for benefits by more than 14 times, and moves the burden of paying for utility delays from the shareholders and onto the utility customers by replacing the current law with his proposed changes.
House Bill 5542, which was introduced in 2012 and opposed by members of Ms. Hughes' own party, would provide benefits for some families that suffered food losses after extended outages, but limits the qualification to families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, known as "SNAP", and sets a ceiling at 60% of the median household income, meaning families earning more than $45,664 would be excluded regardless of whether they were receiving SNAP benefits. Current law provides for families earning up to $47,640 to qualify for reimbursement, meaning fewer families would qualify under the bill proposed by Ms. Hughes.
HB 5542 also would limit the amount that can be reimbursed for food loss to $150 and sets requirements for receipts and other records. Current policy allows replacement of food purchased by SNAP and sets no hard limit, meaning losses of $300 would be covered.
HB 5542 would require power to be out for more than 2 days. Current policy reimburses for losses after 4 hours.
HB 5542 would use money from ratepayer fees paid to utilities, putting the burden of paying for damages on utility customers and not the utility itself.
Current SNAP recipients, which include more families who earn more than 60% of the median household income, can request reimbursement for storm related losses, with almost none of the paperwork that would be required by HB 5542.
Representative Allie-Brennan, who co-authored the letter requesting this change is aware of this as he posted links for SNAP recipients to use on his official social media page a day before calling for the reduced benefits in bill 5542.
An alternative to HB 5542 passed in 2012. That bill uses funds from stockholders, not rate payers, in an effort to make utilities more responsive and responsible for their storm response and customer losses.
The bill passed that year that gave more oversight authority to the Public Utilities Regulatory Agency, including the authority to fine utilities up to 2 1/2% from profits, not ratepayer fees, to reimburse customers as credits for such things as food and medicine spoilage. The bill passed with unanimous bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and was signed by then Governor Malloy in 2012. Statute 12-148 is currently in force and can be found here: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=23&which_year=2012
"I was proud to support bipartisan legislation to hold companies and CEOs accountable, put relief into the pockets of ratepayers, and accomplish so much more," Dan Carter, who is challenging Mr. Allie-Brennan said. "What we did then could be used today to hold Eversource accountable."
Ms. Hughes and Mr. Allie-Brennan released a letter this week that they sent to Assembly Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and Majority Leader Bob Duff that states "We are calling for the passage of legislation along the lines of House Bill 5542, An Act Concerning Consumer Protection For Utility Customers, from 2012 which would have provided protections to ratepayers and ensured utility executives are accountable to ratepayers." The letter sent by Mr. Allie-Brennan and Ms Hughes ignores that stronger laws are currently in place that do not pass the costs to customers. Should HB 5542 become law, it would replace current laws and reduce benefits to those hurt by delays in storm recovery.
The Community Gazette requested comment from both Representatives Hughes and Allie-Brennan for this article. We specifically asked Representative Allie-Brennan and also Representative Hughes why they are proposing to reintroduce a bill that would lower benefits to ratepayers, use funds from rate payers instead of stockholders and provide benefits to fewer residents than currently provided by law. Mr. Allie-Brennan did not respond to our requests as of press time, and we have relied on his press release and recent official statements for this article.
Ms. Hughes, through her press aide, provided this statement "I'm confused about your question. Former Rep John Shaban showed his true colors when he voted against this bill in 2012. House Democrats are putting together a comprehensive bill to hold public utilities like Eversource and UI accountable for developing a more secure energy distribution grid, better outage communication plans, outage-related funds, and limit executive compensation in light of recent surprise rate hikes and massive power outages after tropical storm Isaias, and make sure the utilities are accountable to ratepayers. Obviously, my goal is to make sure that our lowest income families are able to afford food and medication, especially during an emergency outage. And that's what I am supporting."
Mr. Carter provided this comment about the current law that he helped put in place while in the legislature and Mr. Allie-Brennan's proposal to replace it: "His bill limits the amount available for households, while our bill (currently in force) gives PURA the ability to get much more for our residents. In addition, on his bill the money to fund reimbursements from food spoilage comes from the Public Benefit Charge on our electric bill, which is used to help people in need, which means they get less, or we raise rates. Both are bad options. The most important difference is our bill brings money in from the shareholders and gives it directly to those affected, which is an incentive to have them keep the company in line. It also means the ratepayer has some protection and doesn't take the hit for mismanagement."
HB 5542 in it's current form can be viewed at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2012/FC/2012HB-05542-R000453-FC.htm/.
The letter from Ms. Hughes and Mr. Allie-Brennan calling for the re-introduction of HB 5542 can be found here:
The current law, passed with Mr. Carter's support, can be found here:
After press time. Mr. Allie-Brennan shared this statement: "First, Legal services testified in support of the original bill. If it was going to lower benefits the committee would have been alerted. Second, any proposed legislation we support would be updated to address current circumstances."