Noting the uncertain future of the current moratorium on utility shutoffs, Senator Tom Killion (R-Chester and Delaware) has introduced legislation that would allocate $100 million to households and small businesses delinquent on utility bills because of COVID-19.
“Almost 800,000 residential customers as well as 55,000 businesses are behind on their utility bills for no reason other than the pandemic,” noted Killion. “These hardworking Pennsylvanians would be at the mercy of the utility companies should the shutoff moratorium be lifted.”
Killion’s legislation, Senate Bill 1234, entitled the Utility Security for Seniors, Families and Small Businesses Act, would allocate federal funding Pennsylvania received from the CARES Act. Specifically, it would:
- Provide additional utility assistance to low-income customers eligible for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);
- Increase program flexibility to ensure that those who previously did not meet income eligibility guidelines but lost their income as a result of the pandemic can access funds under LIHEAP or through other state assistance programs; and
- Establish a mechanism to provide small businesses that have had their operations interrupted as a result of the pandemic with financial assistance to pay back utility bills and stay current on their bills in the coming months as the economy recovers.
“This legislation provides the assistance necessary to stop the massive economic aftershock mass shutoffs would precipitate,” said Killion. “Closed businesses, abandoned properties and homes, and utility rate increases are among the most likely effects from failing to provide this much-needed assistance.”
Killion engaged a number of utility companies and consumer advocacy groups in crafting the legislation including PECO, the Energy Association of PA, National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), Chester Water Authority (CWA), Philadelphia Gas Works, PennEnvironment and PennPIRG.
“The CARES Act funding was meant to help states during this difficult time,” said PennPIRG Advocate, Emma Horst-Martz. “Protecting our most vulnerable consumers and businesses who are at risk of losing their utility services is a perfect way to use this money. Pennsylvanians should be focused on staying safe and healthy, not worrying about losing power or water during the pandemic.”
Senate Bill 1234 has been referred to the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee, chaired by Senator Robert ‘Tommy’ Tomlinson (R-Bucks). It has 15 co-sponsors, eight Republicans and seven Democrats.
“COVID-19 is an economic disaster of previously unimaginable proportion,” said Killion. “My bill will directly assist millions of hardworking Pennsylvanians, including countless seniors, children and small businesses. It will indirectly benefit everyone in the Commonwealth by mitigating the need for rate increases caused by hundreds of thousands of delinquent accounts. And it will all be done at no cost to state taxpayers.”