By Laura Edinger, Senior Policy Analyst, Pennsylvania Utility Law Project
On March 31, 2021, the ban on utility shutoffs will end for all residential utility customers in Pennsylvania.
What does this mean for utility customers?
Utilities may begin terminating utility service to residential homes on or after April 1, 2021, if customers have missed payments on their utility bills. No customers, regardless of household income, are protected from shutoff for nonpayment after April 1.
A utility can act on a written termination notice for up to 60 days! If a consumer received a 10-day written termination notice from their utility after February 1, and before April 1, they may not receive another written notice before their service is shut off. It is critical for families to apply for assistance NOW if they are behind on their bill!
Is there assistance available to avoid utility termination?
There are several options available for assistance in paying utility bills and reducing or eliminating utility debt, and more help is coming soon. The following programs are the largest in Pennsylvania, but additional assistance programs may be available. Contact your utility for more information!
- Large, PUC-regulated electric and natural gas companies, as well as some private water companies, offer Customer Assistance Programs that provide a discounted bill and debt forgiveness over time.
- LIHEAP provides Cash and Crisis grant assistance to low income families with income at/below 150% FPL that are responsible for their home heating costs. Emergency furnace repair assistance is also available.
- The current LIHEAP season has been extended until April 30, 2021.
- Pennsylvania is expected to receive approximately $270M in additional LIHEAP funds through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
- Informational Resources:
- ERAP is a new program, administered by each county in PA.
- The PA Dept. of Human Services (DHS) recently launched a centralized website, with contact information for each county’s program.
- Most Pennsylvania counties accept applications submitted through COMPASS.
- Income Threshold: 80% AMI (Area Median Income)
- In addition to providing rental assistance, the program can pay past due utility debts since March 2020 (water, wastewater, electric, gas, deliverable fuels, trash).
- Assistance for broadband and telecommunication services may also be available.
Payment Arrangements (made through the utility company or through the PUC)
- Payment arrangements are best used as a last resort, only after all other avenues of assistance have been explored (see programs listed above).
- Until December 31, 2021, utilities are required to offer extended payment arrangements to residential customers based on household income:
- 5 years (60 months): Income at / below 250% FPL
- 2 years (24 months): Income between 250% – 300% FPL
- 1 year (12 months): Income over 300% FPL
- If customers are unable to maintain a payment arrangement with the utility – if they default on payment – they will have the option to make a payment arrangement with the PUC. As with the utility-based payment arrangement, the PUC payment arrangement may also be made up to 5 years for households with income at or under 250% FPL.
- If a customer defaults on the first payment arrangement made with the PUC, the PUC is permitted to issue a second payment arrangement – but only if the customer defaulted during the time Governor Wolf’s Emergency Proclamation is still in effect. If the Emergency Proclamation has ended, the customer will not be granted a second payment arrangement by the PUC.
- To request a payment arrangement from the PUC, call 800-692-7380.
Where do I go for additional information?
Click here for more resources or attend one of our upcoming webinars:
- Tuesday, March 30, 2021 @ 12:00 PM: Moratorium Ends March 31, 2021 – What You Need to Know!
- PULP, and our partners at the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania and Community Legal Services, will provide an overview of the programs and policies available to assist our fellow Pennsylvanians to prevent a utility shutoff and catch up on their bills. This will include more detailed information for each of the programs listed above, as well as up-to-date information about the rollout of federal assistance through the American Rescue Plan of 2021.
- Click here to register.
- Wednesday, April 7, 2021 @ 1:00 PM: Utility Assistance Update and Primer
- PULP will join with Community Legal Services and the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network to provide a one-hour CLE webinar, covering the basics on the various utility assistance programs in Pennsylvania, with a specific focus on the new federal assistance programs. We will also share key policies to prevent termination.
- Click here to register.
If you have questions, PULP is happy to help. You can find us online here or send us an email here. If you are a consumer facing termination, or are having difficulty with your utility service, contact your local legal services program or call PULP’s Utility Hotline at 844-645-2500.