PUC: Reinstate Moratorium on Utility Disconnections

No Vermonter, particularly in the midst of an ongoing spike in COVID-19, should have to worry that their heat, electricity or water could be disconnected this winter because they are unable to make bill payments due to the pandemic.

That’s why we have joined Vermont Legal Aid and half a dozen other Vermont groups in calling for the Public Utilities Commission to reinstate a moratorium on utility disconnections until we are on the other side of this pandemic.

Please click here to join us in this demand.

If you are struggling to pay your own utility bills there is still time to apply for financial help through the Vermont COVID-19 Arrearage Assistance Program (VCAAP).Click here to learn more and apply. Applications are due by December 15th.

In March of this year, following calls from Vermont Legal Aid, the VT Department of Public Service (DPS), and utilities themselves, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued a moratorium on utility disconnections that went into effect on March 18th. But, after multiple extensions, the PUC allowed the moratorium to expire on October 15th.

One stated reason that the PUC did not extend the moratorium is that the legislature allocated $8.5 million in federal CARES Act money in VCAAP, intended to pay Vermonters’ unpaid utility bills. That money needed to be used by the end of the year, and by ending the moratorium – the thinking went – they would bring more attention to the VCAAP program so Vermonters would apply for help.[1]

Whether you agree with that strategy or not, the application period closes December 15th, and that justification will soon become irrelevant.

Vermont should not risk of even one Vermonter potentially suffering utility disconnections in the midst of a pandemic, from the lack of state action. Without the moratorium, Vermonters could be driven into unsafe situations that may include seeking refuge with friends or family in violation of the statewide ban on multi-household gatherings, which could in turn contribute to a worsening of the pandemic. And children could functionally be forced out of school, with so much learning taking place on computers – which of course require electricity.

Join us in calling for Vermont to reinstate a statewide moratorium on utility disconnections through the end of the Governor’s state of emergency around the pandemic.

No Vermonter should fear that their heat or lights will suddenly turn off because their pandemic-induced financial struggles have led them to be past due on their bills. Please join us in calling for a statewide moratorium on utility disconnections. And if you are struggling to keep up with utility bills that are 60+ days overdue, be sure to apply for VCAAP money as soon as you can.

P.S. Some utilities (including Green Mountain Power, Vermont Gas Systems, and Burlington Electric Department) have already committed to not disconnect customers who are unable to pay their heating bills this winter. That is good news especially without a moratorium on disconnections, but we believe the state must safeguard all Vermonters against disconnections and not leave it up to the utilities’ good discretion.

[1] https://vtdigger.org/2020/10/13/moratorium-on-utility-disconnections-set-to-expire-thursday/

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