With Washington state’s ban on disconnecting utilities set to lift Thursday, officials are urging customers with overdue water and energy bills to seek assistance.
Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the ban on utility shut-offs due to nonpayment in April 2020, citing the coronavirus public health emergency, and extended the temporary moratorium in July.
The expiration is expected to affect an estimated 283,223 customers with overdue bills, according to Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission spokesperson Emilie Brown.
According to Brown, energy utilities reported $81.5 million in overdue bills as of July, an increase from the $64.9 million reported in January.
It’s not too late for people to apply for assistance funds or set up a payment plan to avoid disconnection, Washington UTC said in a statement Tuesday.
Here are the programs available:
- COVID-19 bill relief programs are available for customers of PacifiCorp, Puget Sound Energy, Avista, Cascade Natural Gas and NW Natural. Customers facing disconnection should call their utility to apply for assistance funds.
- The federal Low-Income House Energy Assistance Program is available for those who qualify. Eligibility is determined by household income, household size and heating costs. Find your local LIHEAP agency to apply by visiting fortress.wa.gov/com/liheappublic.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers COVID-19 financial assistance for rent and utilities
The Washington UTC has more COVID-19 utility assistance resources on their website at utc.wa.gov/CovidHelp. The commission advises those facing disconnection who have already contacted their utility to reach the commission’s consumer protection staff at 888-333-WUTC or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Water and energy utilities regulated by the state utilities commission must offer long-term payment plans up to 18 months and cannot charge late or reconnection fees until March 29, 2022.
The commission also advises caution around scammers who call and threaten to shut off service without an immediate payment. A utility company will not shut off service without an official written notice, officials say.