With moratoriums on utilities expiring, many Americans could be left without protections by next month. This means that the millions of jobless Americans may have to stretch their savings to literally keep their lights on.
If you’re worried about your utilities getting shut off because you’re having difficulty paying your bills, there are several steps to take, experts told Cashay. Here’s what to do.
‘Immediately reach out to local utility or electricity provider’
“If your utilities are shut off for non-payment, you should immediately reach out to your local utility or electricity provider,” said Kelly Bedrich, president of electricityplans.com, an electricity plan marketplace. “The utility will almost always be willing to work out a payment plan and help you quickly reestablish service.”
For instance, providers such as ConEdison have already stated on their websites they will not shut down your service for non-payment and will waive new late fees.
Check to see if your utility company is covered by the Public Utility Commission.
If it is, “there are rules the company must follow that can help customers avoid a shutoff or have their service reinstated,” said Leslie Tanya, head attorney at Tanya Law Group.
For instance, the California Public Utilities Commission enacted an order to suspend service disconnections due to non-payment until April 16th, 2021. But orders can differ on a state-by-state basis.
See if you qualify for your state’s low income utilities list
If you reside in a state such as Texas, where there are no moratoriums in place for utilities, you will receive a 10-days notice before your electricity is shut off.
But if you qualify for the State’s Low Income List Administrator (LILA), you may be exempted.
“Specifically for COVID-19, many states have implemented low income lists that will prevent your utilities from being shut off,” Bedrich said. “The time to get on these lists is before your utilities are cut off.”
You can also call 211 and ask to connect with a local agency with low-income programs.
“HEAP, which stands for ‘Home Energy Assistance Program’ provides low-income families assistance with heating and cooling energy costs,” Tanya said. “Programs vary by state, so individuals should go to the ‘Housing and Public Utilities’ section on Benefits.gov to see what’s available in their area.”
Senior discounts and service protections are also available in many municipalities, so those 62 or older should inquire with their utility companies regarding available discounts, Tanya said.
Consider non-traditional options if all else fails
If you still need relief from your utilities bills, check what resources are around your block. Oftentimes, local charities and churches will offer a helping hand.
“Local charities are more likely to be able to help while the problem is small,” Frankie Fergurgur, a certified financial education instructor at Frankmoneytalk.com said. “But if the utility company is requiring a deposit to resume service, they may be your best option.”
While asking for help may seem unfamiliar, Fergurgur said leave those hesitations behind.
“Local churches and specialty organizations, such as community action groups, are known for providing help for utility bills as well as food and personal hygiene items,” Fergurgur said. “Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help.”
If all else fails, consider the personal bankruptcy route.
“Once a bankruptcy petition is filed, a utility company is prohibited from keeping water, electricity, gas shut off just because someone is behind on their utility bills,” said Ben Schneider, attorney at the Law Officers of Schneider and Stone.
One of his client had an electricity bill that exceeded $7,000, but after filing for bankruptcy, she was discharged from the debt and had to pay $150 to keep the electricity in good standing.
“The debtor may have to come up with what we call ‘adequate assurance’ that the bills will be paid in the future,” Schneider said. “But this is usually a small amount compared with the large arrears that cause utilities to be turned off in the first place.”
Read more information and tips in our Housing section