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Those Facing Utility Shut-Offs Should Contact Provider

 

Last updated 4/1/2021 at 2:40pm

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) on March 25 urged consumers and small businesses who are struggling financially to call utilities now to discuss the options available to address any past-due balances, apply for available assistance programs, and review payment plan options.

The programs available are all focused on keeping households and businesses connected to vital utility services. The service has the social media hashtag #CallUtilitiesNow

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

Public utilities understand the assistance programs available in their communities – including utility-run Customer Assistance Programs (CAP) for income-qualified consumers, national programs like LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), and various hardship funds 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.

The PUC emphasized that a direct conversation between customer and utility is the best "first step" for any Pennsylvania household or business to #KeepUtilitiesOn, whether your financial difficulties are related to the COVID pandemic or other circumstances.

At-Risk Consumers in Pennsylvania

According to utility reports submitted to the PUC, there are just over 890,000 residential utility accounts at risk of termination. While the total number of accounts has gradually declined since a peak in October 2020, when it reached almost 1.1 million, the total dollar amount owed by at-risk households has continued to grow, now topping $856 million.

According to the PUC, "millions of dollars in financial assistance" is available from utilities and various supplemental programs. The PUC is encouraging 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 for the new year – risking removal from those programs.

• Households who qualify for LIHEAP financial assistance but have not applied for seasonal or supplemental aid.

• Individuals who may qualify for "rent and utility assistance" available through counties across Pennsylvania.

Payment Plans & Flexible Income Verification

On March 11, 2021, the PUC required all commission-regulated electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunications, and steam utilities to modify their existing collection policies to provide additional payment plan options for residential and small business customers.

Residential customers qualify for 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 with a minimum length 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.

 

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