Thursday, August 26, 2021

PUC: Strongly Encourages Consumers & Small Businesses To Contact Utilities About Options To Pay Past-Due Balances To Avoid Termination

The Public Utility Commission strongly encouraged consumers and small businesses who may still be experiencing financial difficulty to #CallUtilitiesNow to discuss the options to remain connected to vital utility services before some extended payment plan options expire at the end of September.

The PUC emphasized that direct conversations between customers and utilities are the best “first step” for any Pennsylvania household or business struggling to #KeepUtilitiesOn, whether those financial difficulties are related to the COVID pandemic, the ongoing state and national recovery, or other challenging circumstances.

In a statement, Chairman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille noted that there are many options available to address past-due balances and continue service, but the deadline to apply for some of those programs is quickly approaching.

Extended Payment Plans

Earlier this year, the PUC required all Commission-regulated electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunications, and steam utilities to provide additional extended payment plan options for residential and small business customers.

Residential customers qualify for extended payment arrangements to gradually pay down their previous balances over an extended period – with a minimum length of one to five years, depending on their income level (lower income levels qualify for longer payment periods) – and small business customers qualify for payment arrangements for a minimum of 18 months.

Additionally, utilities and the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services may continue to use flexible means for income verification and business status information – such as over-the-phone or via electronic mail, for the purpose of qualifying customers for payment arrangements and/or universal service programs. 

These policy modifications will end after September 30, 2021, so consumers and small businesses should #CallUtilitiesNow to discuss extended payment plans before that deadline.

At-Risk Consumers In PA Gradually Declining

The number of utility accounts at-risk of termination has continued to gradually decline, as has the total dollar amount owed, but a substantial number of households remain at-risk of utility shut-offs as we move into the fall season.

According to the most recent utility reports submitted to the PUC, approximately 750,000 residential accounts are currently at-risk of termination – down from an Oct. 2020 peak of almost 1.1 million residential accounts. 

The past-due balance for those residential accounts is approximately $664 million, compared to more than $856 million earlier this year.

Additionally, nearly 68,000 small businesses across the state are at-risk of termination (down from almost 90,000 past-due accounts in Oct. 2020).  The past-due balance for those commercial accounts is $90 million, compared to more than $126 million earlier this year.

Other Assistance Options Available for Consumers

In addition to extended payment plans, the PUC noted that millions of dollars in financial assistance is currently available from utilities and various supplemental programs, and the Commission encouraged every eligible individual and household to make use of those funds to address their balances and #KeepUtilitiesOn.

The households of greatest concern include:

-- Utility customers experiencing financial difficulty for the first time and unaware of the resources available or the process for requesting assistance.

-- Households that did not qualify for assistance in the past, because of higher incomes, but may now be eligible because of the financial impact of the pandemic.

-- CAP customers who have not renewed their assistance plan enrollment – risking removal from those programs.

-- Individuals who may qualify for “rent and utility assistance” available through counties across Pennsylvania.

-- Households who qualify for LIHEAP financial assistance but did not apply for seasonal or supplemental aid.

#CallUtilitiesNow is the best way to identify what help may be available to you, your family and your business.  Also, be sure to call all your utilities: electric, natural gas, water/wastewater and telecommunications because each may have different programs or resources available.

Utilities understand the assistance programs available in their communities for income-qualified consumers – including utility-run Customer Assistance Programs (CAP), national programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and various hardship fund programs operated by utilities and non-profit organizations to #KeepUtilitiesOn. 

Utilities also can help enroll consumers in assistance programs, guide them to other available resources and discuss new payment plan options to address overdue balances and help consumers move forward.

Consumers may also contact Pennsylvania’s “211” system (Dial 211 or visit for information and resources in their communities to help with utilities, housing, food, employment and more.

[Posted: August 26, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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