by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy
I grew up in Petersburg, Virginia, and I was raised by my grandmother. Petersburg was once one of the wealthiest African-American communities in the Commonwealth, but when manufacturing jobs left and businesses closed, despair crept in. Now, many families are fighting to stay above water, and as the debts get bigger, paychecks feel smaller and times are getting tougher.
Sometimes, it’s hard for politicians to understand those kinds of struggles. The kind of struggles that make putting food on the table, or affording medication, tough. I remember when my grandmother fell ill, I had to split her medication in half because we couldn’t afford the full prescription. For a lot of politicians, it’s impossible to understand that a few hundred dollars might be the difference between a home and homelessness (and it’s especially impossible to understand when they fight harder for special interests than for working Virginians). I saw it when I was younger, and now, I see it every day in my job. As a court-appointed attorney and as a former public defender, I often serve clients who can’t afford a $100 bond to bail out of jail. In fact, I represented a client who searched the dumpster to find something to eat before coming to court.
Between 2017 and 2019, Dominion Energy overcharged customers by $502.7 million. The money Virginians used to pay their inflated bills is money they could really use right now during COVID-19. Recently, Governor Ralph Northam proposed budget language mandating that Dominion give the overages back to customers. His proposal would also forgive unpaid bills, prohibit Dominion from shifting costs to other customers, and extend the moratorium on utility shutoffs so people don’t have to worry about keeping the lights on as they navigate life during this global pandemic.
The bottom line is that Dominion must return, not some of the $500 million overages, but all of it. The money belongs to Virginians who need it more now than ever. Dominion has been exploiting the legislative process for too long, cozying up to politicians on both sides of the aisle. But now, during the middle of a global pandemic, Virginians can’t afford to pay an extra $100 in utility bills when they have lost their jobs, are struggling to put food on the table, or have just been diagnosed with COVID-19. It’s now time for Dominion to pay what it owes.