Pennsylvania to lift last moratorium on utility shutoffs

The Associated Press
FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference in Harrisburg, Pa., regarding the counting of ballots in the 2020 general election. Facing a deep, pandemic-inflicted budget deficit, Gov. Wolf will ask lawmakers for billions of dollars funded by higher taxes on Pennsylvania’s huge natural gas industry for workforce development and employment assistance to help the state recover. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission on Thursday approved the lifting of its year-old moratorium preventing utilities from terminating service to all non-paying customers, adopted as Gov. Tom Wolf began ordering shutdowns to fight the spreading coronavirus.

The moratorium will lift April 1 for the state’s lower-income utility customers, but the commission also required all of its regulated utilities — including electric, natural gas, water, sewer and telephone — to give them additional payment plan options.

Utilities asked as far back as last June at least to lift the moratorium, but Democrats on the five-member panel resisted until this month, as hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid became available to renters that can be used to help pay utility bills.

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Utilities had been permitted to resume disconnections last fall for residential customers above 300% of the federal poverty level, or about $79,000 in annual income for a family of four last year.

Reports from utilities on file with the commission showed a modest year-over-year increase in the number of customers who were behind on bills, as of December. Those same reports, however, showed a much bigger increase in the amount of money those customers owe.