Util­ity shut­offs pro­hib­ited through­out Mary­land un­til Nov. 15

The Dundalk Eagle - - BY THE PEOPLE -

The Mary­land Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion, in an emer­gency ac­tion, has pro­hib­ited res­i­den­tial util­ity ser­vice ter­mi­na­tions through Novem­ber 15, 2020.

Gov­er­nor Larry Ho­gan’s Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der pro­hibit­ing ser­vice ter­mi­na­tions and late fees ex­pired on Tues­day, Septem­ber 1, 2020. The Com­mis­sion, which on Mon­day, Au­gust 31, con­cluded hear­ings to ex­am­ine the ef­fects of the COVID-19 pan­demic on cus­tomers and util­ity fi­nances, took this step to pro­tect as many cus­tomers as pos­si­ble from hav­ing elec­tric, gas or wa­ter ser­vice shut off and to pro­vide a tran­si­tion pe­riod that al­lows res­i­den­tial cus­tomers time to ap­ply for as­sis­tance pro­grams or make pay­ment ar­range­ments with their util­ity.

“The Com­mis­sion’s goal is help those cus­tomers strug­gling with house­hold ex­penses dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time and to en­sure that their util­ity ser­vices re­main con­nected,” said Ja­son M. Stanek, Chair­man of the Mary­land PSC.

“It is im­por­tant that cus­tomers be­hind on their util­ity bills not wait for a turn-off no­tice or, when they re­ceive one, to con­tact their util­ity right away and work with them to dis­cuss pay­ment plans and bill as­sis­tance pro­grams that are avail­able to help them.

The Com­mis­sion is hold­ing util­i­ties re­spon­si­ble for proac­tive out­reach to their cus­tomers to let them know about util­ity, state and com­mu­nity re­sources that are avail­able to as­sist cus­tomers who are un­able to pay their bills due to the on­go­ing COVID-19 pan­demic and to keep cus­tomers in ser­vice if they en­ter into a pay­ment ar­range­ment.”

Not­ing that the ex­pi­ra­tion of the Gov­er­nor’s Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der im­pacts some ser­vices not reg­u­lated by the Com­mis­sion, Com­mis­sioner Obi Lin­ton said, “I en­cour­age those util­ity-re­lated com­pa­nies, such as Xfinity and Ver­i­zon, and our state wa­ter and sewer agen­cies to con­sider an­nounc­ing and es­tab­lish­ing sim­i­lar tran­si­tion plans for their cus­tomers if they have not done so al­ready.”

Un­der the rul­ing, util­ity com­pa­nies can not be­gin send­ing ter­mi­na­tion no­tices un­til Oc­to­ber 1, 2020, which is 45 days in ad­vance of a ter­mi­na­tion (cur­rent reg­u­la­tions re­quire only a 14-day no­tice).

Also un­der the rul­ing, res­i­den­tial cus­tomers in ar­rears would have 45 days from re­ceipt of a no­tice to work out a pay­ment plan with their util­ity or to ap­ply for en­ergy as­sis­tance pro­grams. Cus­tomers who take ei­ther ac­tion would not have ser­vice dis­con­nected.

Util­ity com­pa­nies must of­fer a min­i­mum pay­ment plan of 12 months (or 24 months for those cus­tomers re­ceiv­ing en­ergy as­sis­tance from the state’s Of­fice of Home En­ergy Pro­grams) and can­not re­quire a down pay­ment or de­posit as a con­di­tion of be­gin­ning a pay­ment plan for any res­i­den­tial cus­tomer, in­clud­ing both cur­rent and new cus­tomers.

The Com­mis­sion re­minds util­ity cus­tomers fac­ing ser­vice ter­mi­na­tion that pro­grams are avail­able to as­sist with bill pay­ment and those who are fac­ing ter­mi­na­tion have cer­tain rights. Cus­tomers be­hind on their bills and who are fac­ing a shut­off should first con­tact their util­ity to ask about ex­tended pay­ments plans, bud­get billing or other mea­sures to avoid ser­vice ter­mi­na­tion.

In­for­ma­tion on en­ergy as­sis­tance pro­grams can be found on­line at Mary­land PSC’s web­site , the Of­fice of Home En­ergy Pro­grams in the Mary­land De­part­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices’s web­site, Fuel Fund of Mary­land’s web­site, by call­ing Mary­land 211/ tex­ting My211MD to 898-211, or by vis­it­ing the Mary­land Of­fice of Peo­ple’s Coun­sel’s web­site.

The Com­mis­sion plans to is­sue a sub­se­quent or­der in the near fu­ture that will in­clude more de­tails on the re­quire­ments of the mod­i­fied ter­mi­na­tion process and ad­dress­ing such is­sues as in­cre­men­tal costs re­lated to COVID-19.

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