Utility shutoffs prohibited throughout Maryland until Nov. 15
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.