The Maryland Public Service Commission today allocated $83 million in state funding to utilities to help customers with delinquent bills, particularly arrearages incurred amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funding is part of the RELIEF (Recovery for the Economy, Livelihoods, Industries, Entrepreneurs, and Families) Act passed by the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year, and signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan.
Maryland utilities report that thousands of residential customers are behind on their bills for electric and gas service as a direct result of the public health crisis. Under today’s Commission order, the additional funds will help alleviate a portion of the $276 million owed by utility customers, many of whom face significant hardship due to loss of employment or reduced hours and income.
“Today’s disbursement of millions of dollars in aid will help tens of thousands of needy Maryland families get out from under a mountain of utility-related debt,” said Chairman of the Public Service Commission Jason M. Stanek. “Using the RELIEF Act funding to pay down or eliminate past due balances will go a long way towards ensuring that no Marylander loses essential utility services as we emerge from this pandemic.”
According to the Maryland Public Service Commission:
Only residential customer accounts with arrearages that accumulated before June 30, 2021 are eligible to have the funding applied. The RELIEF Act directed that the grants be applied to amounts owed by customers in the following order:
- Category 1: Customers who have received energy assistance from the state’s Office of Home Energy Programs within the last four years (OHEP is a division of the Maryland Department of Human Services);
- Category 2: Customers who have special medical needs certificates on file with their utility; and,
- Category 3: Customers with the oldest arrearages.
It is expected that the $83 million in assistance will eliminate customer debt in categories 1 and 2 for all utilities; for category 3, each utility will be allocated funds based on its statewide share of the total arrearages and will determine how much a customer’s account will be credited. Funds will appear as bill credits in the coming months.
Additionally, protections for all utility customers remain in effect per the Commission’s August 31, 2020 ruling. They include:
- Termination notices must be sent 45 days in advance (pre-pandemic this was 14 days);
- Residential customers in arrears would have 45 days from receipt of a notice to work out a payment plan with their utility or to apply for energy assistance programs. Customers who take either action would not have service disconnected.
- Utilities must offer a minimum payment plan of 12 months (or 24 months for those customers receiving energy assistance from the state’s Office of Home Energy Programs).
- Utilities cannot require a down payment or deposit as a condition of beginning a payment plan for any residential customer, including both current and new customers.