The sun is out, the power is on, and the twenty-six and a half hours without electricity that we Springfield, Massachusetts residents endured until 6 pm. yesterday seem almost unreal. Of course, I still have to go through my refrigerator and throw out everything in it-- I just haven't had the energy or the heart to tackle that particular job just yet.
So this time the outage probably wasn't Western Mass Electric's fault, but the fault of a subcontractor, Turner Underground Installation, of Henrietta, N.Y. laying fiber optic cable along Route 91. This subcontractor worked for Adesta LLC of Omaha, Neb., the same company who had another subcontractor who caused a huge water main break a couple of months ago that made passing through the Main and Carew St. intersection impossible for weeks.
My particular area of the city seems plagued with outages which occur about every other month. On Wednesday, the power flickered for just the few seconds required to shut off my computer. On Thursday morning, it happened again. My fan hadn't even stopped rotating by the time the power came back on, but I lost a few paragraphs of what I was writing on my computer, and this time I called WMECO to tell the company about both outages. The woman who took my call gave a rote answer about all the lightening storms we were having. I told her no, that wasn't the problem. Possibly she was working in a windowless room; most likely, she wasn't even in Massachusetts.
So maybe I should take it back when I say it wasn't WMECO's fault, because they were certainly warned that something was wrong. A few hours later, at 3:30 pm., the power went out for good and stayed out until 6 pm. yesterday. And I do blame WMECO for not giving us an accurate estimate of how long it would take to restore power, instead doling out restoration in six hour chunks of time. If we'd known that the sun would set, rise and nearly set again before the problem was fixed, at least some people could have gotten the food in their freezers to a friend on the far side of town.
The Republican had a good article yesterday describing some of the impact the outage had on area businesses; more than 100 were affected. In terms of dollar amounts, obviously the bigger businesses were hit the worst. But in terms of just plain survival, I think the smaller businesses will pay an even higher price. Some won't survive.
As I prepare to toss at least $150 worth of food (and I don't even buy meat!) I can't help but run some numbers in my mind.
12,000 customers-- that is, households-- suffered the outage. That's 20% of Springfield's population.
25% of Springfield's residents live below the federal poverty level-- so that's about 4,000 households. Of course you don't have to live below the poverty level to be negative affected by the power outage, not with a median family income in this city of less than $37,000.
Some unknowable percentage of people in those 4,000 households will be hungry in the weeks to come. They will not be able to go out and replace the food that they lost.
Another unknowable percentage will not be able to pay utility bills or will ultimately wind up being evicted from their homes because of lost wages. A thirty-seven hour a week worker at a fast food restaurant, earning $8 an hour, takes home only $296 a week. That weekly income will be cut by 20 to 30% next paycheck, because that worker is paid by the hour, not salaried, and if the restaurant isn't open, nobody works. That same person will have the extra burden of replacing spoiled food.
This is what so many people don't understand about people who are living in poverty. The poor have absolutely no safety margin when faced with an unexpected financial calamity.
Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera wants Gov. Deval Patrick to have the state reimburse every resident and restaurant for the food they had to throw away. I doubt it will happen, but I do think somebody other than the beleaguered resident of this city should pay the price. We've had enough.