Lawmakers say PSEG should reimburse for medication, perishable food

Candice Ferrette for Newsday

August 10, 2020

Originally published in Newsday on August 10, 2020.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and six Long Island state senators on Monday called on PSEG to reimburse residents for perishable food and medication lost in nearly a week without power, slamming the utility company for its poor communication and slow removal of downed power lines.

Curran, a Democrat who wrote two letters to the power company, said she also would like PSEG to refund one month’s utility bill for residents and businesses who experienced outages of more than 24 hours.

“We all know that being without power is a hardship, it's an inconvenience," Curran said during a news conference in Mineola. "But with COVID, it’s a lot more than that. A lot of people are working from home. It’s very hot, obviously. So, without air conditioning, we are worried about our vulnerable, our elderly. That’s why we are calling on PSEG Long Island to help — right now."

PSEG representatives did not respond to information requests Monday. Only around 15% of the 2,400 customers who file claims with PSEG annually ever get a level of compensation, Newsday has reported.

Consolidated Edison, which services New York City and Westchester, is offering up to $500 to customers for spoiled food and medication. A business can file a claim with ConEd for reimbursement of up to $10,700, Curran said.

“This move is not unprecedented,” she said. 

An immediate reimbursement is necessary for the 140,000 PSEG customers who were left without power after Tropical Storm Isaias for more than 24 hours, Curran said. With more than 400,000 outages, Long Island suffered more outages than any region in the state.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said he believes the refunds for customers should come from PSEG’s New Jersey parent company’s shareholders, not from LIPA’s budget, which is funded by LIPA/PSEG ratepayers.

“The company and the shareholders who selected the incompetent PSEG management team must be made to shoulder the costs of PSEG's failings during the tropical storm,” Clavin said.

Curran said it was “incomprehensible” that PSEG told customers they would have power back by Saturday and as of Monday morning there were still customers in the dark. “The company’s leadership must pay,” she said.

Curran said the county Department of Public Works is having “a very very hard time trying to even pin down a schedule” for when power lines would be lifted from downed trees, which is preventing workers from being able to clear roads.

Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Garden City) said he spent all weekend speaking with stressed residents, many of them seniors. He said one of his constituents lost her husband to COVID-19, and she continues to be the sole caregiver for her elderly mother, who relies on oxygen. Their home was without power for five days, and PSEG told the woman to take her elderly mother to a hospital, he said.

“It is absolutely heartbreaking and horrific what PSEG customers like her are having to do,” Thomas said.

Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) called it “a week of hell.” “PSEG is just showing they do not care. They are not even capable of addressing them [customers] or communicating with them,” she said.

Kaplan shared a story about a Williston Park resident in her district who said a downed power line caught on fire and burned on his block for seven hours.

“I don’t know what to tell an 80-year-old in my district who is wheelchair-bound in a heated house without food and is not getting any of his concerns addressed,” Kaplan said. “After a week of gross mismanagement of this crisis, Long Islanders deserve more than just to have your power back on.”

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) slammed PSEG’s president for calling the outages “an inconvenience.”

“It is much more than an inconvenience to watch live power lines on fire sparking in the street having no idea whether your house may burn down,” Kaminsky said. “It’s much more than an inconvenience to tell a family of four, five or six that they have to spend another $500 at the supermarket replacing lost food.

“These are very serious issues that get to the heart of Long Islanders’ inability to trust their utility."

With Mark Harrington