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Utility Moratorium Ends, Partly to Help Some Low-Income Mainers

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Thursday, November 19, 2020   

AUGUSTA, Maine -- The Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) is ending its emergency moratorium on utility disconnections due to COVID-19.

But electric and natural-gas utility companies can't disconnect customers from now through April 15 without the commission's approval.

As in past winters, this rarely happens. Still, many lower-income Mainers are stressed about this news.

Aida is a Bangor resident who didn't want to use her real name. She was laid off in March. She has sometimes skipped paying her electric bill, and the moratorium's end added another burden.

"Oh gosh, another wrench thrown in the works with everything else we've had to deal with," Aida remarked. "I think that's how I took it, like, a little overwhelmed and threatened."

Aida is working now, but much less than before.

Utility companies pressed for the moratorium to end because of big losses.

For example, Central Maine Power (CMP) showed in June, the average past-due balance was up 50% compared with 2019.

CMP encourages customers behind on payments to talk to them about creating reasonable payment plans.

Phil Bartlett, MPUC chair, said another reason the moratorium ended is it prevented some low-income individuals from getting more money from the CARES Act.

"The money is only available to them once they receive a disconnection notice," Bartlett explained. "The moratorium prevented that. Even during the winter period, they can get a disconnection notice, subject to commission approval, and that would be sufficient."

Bartlett added while you can get a disconnection notice if you are behind on payments, the commission hardly ever disconnects residents during the winter period.

But having that disconnection notice lets some people get help: Those who qualify for the low-income home energy assistance program (HEAP), can ask for up to four hundred dollars from the Energy Crisis Intervention Program, if they have a disconnection notice.

The CARES Act supports both programs this year.


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