A national patchwork of state utility moratoriums begins to unravel with no federal action; Maryland’s partial moratorium is set to expire November 1.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal, state, and local governments across the nation began instituting eviction moratoriums on housing. Last month, the federal eviction moratorium was struck down by the Supreme Court. This left only state and local level moratoriums in place. Currently, a comparable situation is brewing for critical utilities.
Nationally, the federal government never enacted a policy to prevent wide-scale utility shutoffs. Instead, states were left to choose how to act. According to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, 34 states chose to enact some form of a shutoff moratorium. Of the states that the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association found to still have active moratoriums as of July 2021, Maryland remained under a partial moratorium through November 1, 2021 for customers with medical conditions or who have received energy assistance within the past four years.
According to Commissioner Odogwu Obi Linton, of the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC): at the onset of the pandemic, the PSC faced dual challenges of keeping the lights on for people severely impacted by the pandemic and helping utility providers recoup their costs. Thankfully, the PSC and the state government were able to create a program whereby individuals late on their bills could apply for aide.
“‘For a lot of consumers, a shutoff notice is that signal to apply for help from the state or federal government,’ Linton said. ‘We had several million dollars available, but we did not have consumers applying for it. Now we have utilities starting to send notices, but they’re directed to work with consumers and get appropriate measures in place’” (Smart Cities Dive)
While things in Maryland seem to have settled until at least the November 1st expiration of the moratorium, this is not the case for all states, and a larger crisis may be looming.