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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

20+ Million Americans Are Behind On Utility Bills; Reactor Shut Down After Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant Shelled; Today: New York Law Makes Times Square A Gun-Free Zone. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 01, 2022 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: So, record-breaking heat sweeping much of the country this summer, and Americans are paying more than ever to cool their homes. That's left millions struggling to pay utility bills as energy costs and inflation keep climbing.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich has more.


KIRSTEN BLOM-WESTBROOK, BEHIND ON UTILITY BILLS: I can't withstand the heat too much.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Kirsten Blom-Westbrook has multiple sclerosis. This time of year the heat makes it unbearable.

BLOM-WESTBROOK: There will be days when I can't even get out of bed because the pain is extreme. Fortunately, we have air conditioning but that has side effects, too.

YURKEVICH (on camera): What are those side effects?

BLOM-WESTBROOK: Extremely high bills.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): The cost for Americans' electricity, gas, and water is through the roof, paying $90 more to cool their homes this summer than last year. Twenty million American households are behind on their utility bills. The balance is the highest on record.

BLOM-WESTBROOK: You know, miss the payment -- the next thing you know the power was off.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): It took her two weeks to get the power back on at her Baltimore rental home in June. She owed nearly $1,000.

BLOM-WESTBROOK: They wanted $800 and we didn't have that available.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): She sent her two sons to grandma's house as she and her husband applied for Maryland utility aid made available through federal funding.

BLOM-WESTBROOK: My husband and I were living out of coolers or just --

YURKEVICH (on camera): You lost all the food?


YURKEVICH (on camera): How much money was that down the drain?

BLOM-WESTBROOK: Probably $1,000.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): The aid was approved and now, with the power back on, so is the air conditioning. With that, the bills are rising again.

MARK WOLFE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEADA: Energy inflation is the leading inflation overall. This is not normal.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): The price of natural gas is up about 500 percent since 2020. That, and extreme heat throughout the country, have pushed costs up.

WOLFE: We're seeing numbers from middle-income families go higher. And many of those families also are in very tight budgets.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): There could be some relief down the line. The Inflation Reduction Act has $9 billion in energy rebates and additional tax credits for Americans, aiming to lower utility bills.

But now, as summer ends, winter heating bills will start up.

BLOM-WESTBROOK: It's like three steps forward and two steps back.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Another month, another bill, and another looming shut-off notice. Blom-Westbrook estimates that even with the utility aid she received the family will owe at least $500 at the end of this month, pushing their budget to the limit. They have until October to come up with the money.


BLOM-WESTBROOK: I live with pain all the time, so I'm used to it and I deal with it. But, the emotional pain -- that was pretty bad. It's not something I want my children ever to have to deal with again.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Vanessa Yurkevich, CNN, Baltimore, Maryland.


ROMANS: All right, Vanessa. Thank you so much for that.

A brutal heat wave taxing the power grid in the western U.S. now expected to last through the Labor Day weekend.

Let's get to meteorologist Derek Van Dan. How bad is it going to be, Derek?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, temperatures are going to run 15 to 20 degrees above average.

And in the state of California, PG&E, the largest utility provider for the state, urging its customers to avoid charging their electric vehicles. Remember, this is only a few days after the state of California banned the sale of gasoline cars by the year 2035.

And we saw records yesterday. These are all-time monthly high records for August. In Anaheim, California, the mercury in the thermometer climbing to 106. And trust me, we will see more records broken today right through the long holiday weekend. Over 160 records potentially broken or tied.

We've got 40 million Americans under heat alerts from Oregon all the way to central and southern California, under this extensive heat dome that continues to build through the course of the weekend. And if you're looking for some relief along the coastline you might not get it because temperatures there will be extremely warm. In fact, the heat warnings extend all the way to the coastline of Ventura County, for instance.

Los Angeles -- temperatures will flirt with the 100-degree mark. Sunday and Monday will be your warmest days. It's not only L.A. that will see the excess heat. You can see the triple-digit temperatures from Bakersfield to Sacramento, Death Valley to Palm Springs, as well as Las Vegas -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Derek. Thank you so much for that. Some of those numbers almost hard to believe. It will be hot.

VAN DAM: Yes, not typos.

ROMANS: Right? All right -- thanks, Derek.

Just ahead, a setback for Sarah Palin's political comeback. And nuclear inspectors, right now, on a risky mission in the middle of a war zone.



ROMANS: Just hours ago in Eastern Ukraine, emergency systems were triggered at the Zaporizhzhia power plant in response to shelling by Russian forces. Ukraine's nuclear operator says the number-five reactor has now been shut down. This, as a team of inspectors from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog is trying to get into that plant in the midst of mounting fears of a nuclear disaster.

CNN's Melissa Bell live from Kyiv with the latest developments. And Melissa, what's the latest on this shelling? I mean, it must be terrifying to try to get this watchdog group in. At the same time, you've got a hot war underway around a nuclear power plant. MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. The very reason these inspectors are trying to get through this plant to inspect the damage is exactly what's making it so difficult and dangerous to get there.

And yet, it was with a great deal of courage that they set off this morning from the city Zaporizhzhia. They've been briefed about the fact that there had been severe shelling around the plant, in that town in which it sits, for several hours. They took off nonetheless.

And what we're hearing from the mayor of Enerhodar, which is the town in which the plant is, who is himself in exile, is that it is the worst day in terms of violence since the occupation began. So, since the month of March. Of course, there have been claims from Russia and claims from Ukraine as well as to who is responsible for this uptick in violence around the plant.

But the fact is that this 14-strong team is still on their way. We understand that they've been held up for about three hours. They were held on the Ukrainian side and had to negotiate getting passed because of the necessity of getting to the plant in order to do their jobs.

But it is that uptick in shelling around the plant that's made it particularly dangerous. And it had, for a while, put in doubt the idea that they'd actually manage to get there. We await confirmation of whether or not they've actually been able to make it to the plant. But just extraordinary circumstances in which they are having to get there this morning.

Greater -- an increase in the amount of shelling -- and that's what we've been hearing from inside the town. Images coming out showing that's been getting worse, even as they've been getting closer, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much, Melissa Bell. Thank you so much.

All right, an ugly symbol of racism on full display. What in the world is this plague doing at West Point? And, updated COVID booster shots now a step closer to reality.



ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this Thursday morning.

Looking at markets around the world, losses in Asia. China's factory activity shrank for the first time in three months, and COVID-19 lockdowns closing some factories there, weighing on shares. In Europe, also considerable losses there in Europe -- more than one percent.

And on Wall Street, stock index futures are lower this morning after four days now of a Powell stock market pummeling, approaching another one percent in losses yesterday. Four down days since the Fed chief bluntly told investors more aggressive rate hikes are coming.

It was the worst August percentage-wise since 2015. That's right -- we're in a new month. Four percent losses for the month.

And a tough year. If you're keeping score, we're on track here for the worst since the financial crisis. The S&P 500 is down 17 percent. What does that mean? That wipes out all the gains going back to March 2021. But it had been a roaring couple of years there. And stocks are still higher than their lows back in June. The S&P up four percent off the bottom.

And gas prices keep falling, folks -- $3.83 a gallon just ahead of the Labor Day travel weekend.

Let's bring in Nela Richardson, chief economist at the payroll company ADP. Good morning.

Your read of private sector hiring slowed a bit. You call it an inflection point and a shift toward more conservative hiring. Is that a good thing?

NELA RICHARDSON, CHIEF ECONOMIST, ADP (via Skype): You know, it's the reality. I think we would all like to see blockbuster growth in the economy and strong labor and jobs for everyone who wants them. But in a more realistic economy -- one that is slowing, one that is post- pandemic, one that is readjusting to higher inflation and higher prices but thankfully, lower gas prices -- we have to get more of a reality gut check in our data as well.

And what we're seeing is a bit of a step back in hiring from the supercharged pace we've seen earlier in this recovery.


ROMANS: Yes, and you would normally see a little bit less hiring. It will take fewer people hired to keep the unemployment rate steady at this stage -- mature stage of an expansion.

But the Fed chief, last week -- he said there could be pain for households. And depending on the analysis you read, you need to see job loss -- maybe millions -- to raise the unemployment rate and cool the economy and inflation.

Is the Fed -- I don't want to say rooting for, but would the Fed like to see the unemployment rate rise?

RICHARDSON: I think the only thing the Fed would like to see is inflation fall. I think that's what they'd like to see.

But there's a saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What Chairman Powell was mentioning was the pound of cure that has to come with the high inflation. The Federal Reserve wasn't able to prevent the dynamics of the economy that led to that really high inflation level. So the pound of cure usually comes through to the labor market and also to the housing market in terms of higher mortgage rates. But you raise a really great point that we are at an unemployment rate

that is at a historical low of 3 1/2 percent. We also have workers who are still sitting on the sidelines. So this is a very peculiar labor market because of the extraordinary tightness as a result of the pandemic.

ROMANS: Yes. That's a really good point.

So, this is Labor Day weekend. And after Labor Day, more companies want their workers back at the office. A lot of companies say at least a few days next week, we want to see you coming back. But employees increasingly -- Nela, they want to work from home.

There's this new Gallup poll that shows only six percent want to work on-site -- six percent. And that number keeps falling. It's been falling all summer.

So I wonder, do bosses who watch this program -- do bosses risk big turnover here?

RICHARDSON: I think there is a readjustment and realignment between the expectation of bosses and the desires of workers.

But let me just point out real quick only about 40 percent -- and a little less than that -- of jobs can actually be done remotely. So, for the lion's share of workers, you're going into the office -- and you have been for a really long time.

There's also differences in coastal cities where commuting costs are high versus other places in the country where it's a little easier to get around town to the office. So, there is some geographical disparity in people's desires.

But yes, I think after Labor Day, there's going to have to be some heart-to-hearts between some bosses and some workers. Workers do have a little bit more power in this tight labor market --


RICHARDSON: -- but it's really bosses who make the decisions at the end of the day.

ROMANS: You know, I -- and we don't have time to go into it, but I'm super concerned about childcare shortages. Because there are people scrambling to figure out how to make this two days a week work in still COVID -- a COVID environment where we have fewer people working in childcare today than we did before the -- before the -- pandemic.

RICHARDSON: That's a great point. That's a real issue that needs to be addressed by --


RICHARDSON: -- bosses as well.

ROMANS: All right. Nela Richardson, ADP chief economist, thank you so much. Nice to see you.

All right. A major American tourist spot goes gun-free. The new rules now in effect. Plus, an airline pilot losing his patience over naked pictures.



ROMANS: Starting today, Times Square is now a gun-free zone. It's now deemed a sensitive location under a new state law. The change follows the Supreme Court's decision to relax conceal and carry laws.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS, (D) NEW YORK CITY, NY: The Supreme Court has taken dead aim at the safety -- at the safety of New Yorkers. They've placed us in the line of fire and we must respond accordingly. The radical decision that they made endangers us all. But here in New York, a place known for freedom, openness, and diversity, we will defend ourselves.


ROMANS: Other gun-free areas include New York subways, schools, restaurants, and parks.

The FDA giving a green light to updated COVID-19 booster shots from Pfizer and Moderna. Both companies' shots combine the original vaccine with one that targets the BA-4 and BA-5 Omicron subvariants. Those shots -- they could be available in a matter of days.

All right -- maybe, just maybe, Selena Gomez knows more about classified documents at Mar-a-Lago than seems possible for a pop star.




ROMANS: People on Twitter pointing out that her dress matches the Mar-a-Lago carpet in the FBI evidence picture. Gomez has been seen in another dress that exactly matches the yellow on the papers marked "top secret." And this black and white dress that mimics the papers overflowing from a case in the background. And there you go -- spooky.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" starts right now.