Morales Bill Would Prohibit Utility Shutoffs
During Declared Emergencies
STATE HOUSE – Rep. David Morales has introduced legislation to prohibit electric, gas and water utilities from terminating service to Rhode Islanders for nonpayment during and after the COVID-19 emergency declaration or any future declared emergency.
The legislation (2021-H 5442) would institute a moratorium on service shutoffs for failure to pay during all declared emergencies.
During public health emergencies, it would also require the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to issue orders suspending payment requirements during the emergency and for 90 days afterward, and canceling all late fees accrued during that time. The order would also prohibit utilities from allowing any nonpayment during that time to affect any customer’s credit rating, and would require utilities to restore service to anyone whose services they terminated from the start of the declared emergency.
“Rhode Islanders are facing tremendous challenges as this pandemic nears the year mark. Some have been unable to work for months due to illness, job loss or lack of child care. Many people who were already living on the edge of poverty have been pushed over, and they don’t have options in the middle of the pandemic,” said Representative Morales (D-Dist. 7, Providence). “Shutting off their essential utilities would add a second public health crisis to the first, leaving families in dangerous, unhealthy living situations. For the sake of both human rights and public health, no one should lose their electricity, water or heat during an emergency like the pandemic we are experiencing now.”
Currently, qualified low-income customers are protected from termination of electric and gas utilities for nonpayment due to the annual winter moratorium, which runs from Nov. 1 through April 15. While the PUC had instituted wider emergency protections before the winter moratorium began, nothing is currently in place past April 15.