Utility shutoffs to resume in Pennsylvania on April 1

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission cleared the way for utilities to resume shutting off service to customers who have fallen behind on their bills. The commission voted on Thursday to let the COVID-19 shutoff moratorium expire on April 1.

Commission chair Gladys Dutrieuille added the resolution just before the meeting started. In it, she acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic is not over yet but said the economic impact of it is much improved.

She also noted the utility assistance included in the final CARES Act.

“In light of (that),” she said, “it is now time to return to the regular collections process.”

The resolution outlined three kinds of payment plans — for low-income households, other residential customers and small businesses — that utilities must provide so customers can stay connected while they clear arrearages.

More than 166,000 PECO customers in Philadelphia owe a cumulative $95 million. About 163,000 PGW customers owe roughly $93 million.

PECO welcomed the action, saying it will help the company “encourage more customers to get back on track with their bills.”

It urges customers who have fallen behind to call the company immediately and get in a payment plan. PGW has similar advice. A spokesperson added Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds are still available.

Attorney Joline Price with Community Legal Services agrees it will create a sense of urgency, but in a different manner.

“This is just going to add one more worry while they’re struggling through the pandemic,” she said. “We’re talking about the same population that’s been hit hardest by COVID and job loss and less access to the vaccine. They’re going to have just one more worry to deal with when they start getting shutoff notices.”

She believes the moratorium, which was first imposed in March 2020, should have been extended.

Price fears some households will lose service altogether.

“The kids in that household won’t be able to attend virtual school. We’re looking at a hot summer.”

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