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Floridians 50-Plus Deeply Worried About Higher Utility Bills

Four in 10 Floridians age 50+ already are struggling to pay high electric-utility bills, and more than half are extremely or very concerned about the prospect of that their bills may be rising again soon, according to a new statewide survey announced Monday by AARP Florida.

The survey’s results underscore why AARP is fighting to stop plans to raise rates as part of an economic experiment aimed at encouraging companies to move or expand in the state, noted AARP Florida’s interim state director, Jeff Johnson.

“We at AARP hear what older Floridians are saying loud and clear – older Floridians can’t afford ill-advised plans that stick consumers and existing Florida businesses with higher utility bills,” Johnson said. “On behalf of our members statewide, we’ll oppose any proposals in the Legislature that seek to shift utilities costs to consumers and existing Florida businesses.”

Johnson noted that earlier in the year, senior state officials proposed the idea of raising utility rates on consumers and businesses that already operate in Florida to help lure new or expanding businesses to the state.

Johnson also said AARP is closely studying a new bill (SB 1524) that would allow telephone companies to raise Floridians’ rates on basic and other local landline telephone service at will, without having to seek the permission of the state Public Service Commission as is currently the law. The bill, filed by state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, would take effect July 1, 2011.

“Older Floridians, especially those of modest means, rely heavily on landline service to get access to essential services,” said Johnson. “These Floridians have been hit hard by the Great Recession, two years without a Social Security cost-of-living increase and skyrocketing food and fuel costs. We want to look closely at how consumers would be affected by this bill.”

To gauge older Floridians’ attitudes about higher utilities costs, AARP Florida included questions about the issue in a massive nationwide opinion survey just completed by AARP. The survey gathered the opinions of 29,000 older Americans in all 50 states plus the territories of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. AARP maintains state offices in all of these locations to advocate for older people before state legislators and regulators.

AARP also conducted surveys in each state on specific issues of interest to that state. The surveys will help guide the work of AARP volunteers and staff on behalf of Americans 50+ and all generations.

The Florida survey’s findings were unequivocal: Four in 10 said paying utility bills was already a struggle. Ten percent of those surveyed said they already found it extremely difficult to pay their monthly utility bill, 6 percent said it was very difficult and 24 percent said it was somewhat difficult.

The Florida survey indicated even deeper worries about what could happen next. Some 54 percent of those surveyed said they were extremely or very concerned about rising utility bills. Another 24 percent said they were somewhat concerned. Only 11 percent said they were not very concerned and 12 percent said they were not at all concerned by the prospect of higher utility bills.

“Clearly, officials in Tallahassee aren’t living in the same world as older Floridians struggling with rapidly rising energy prices, higher prescription-drug costs and no Social Security cost-of-living adjustments for the second year in a row,” said Johnson. “Our survey vividly underscores something AARP has known all along: This is just no time to raise utility rates on Florida consumers.”

The survey, taken between Jan. 2 and Jan. 31, is expected to be accurate to within plus or minus 5 percent.