Legislative Effort to Block Friday Shutoffs of Utility Service
Getting your utility service shut off anytime can be a hardship, but a state lawmaker says having the plug pulled on a Friday can be even more problematic.
State Senator Michael Stack (D-Philadelphia) is proposing legislation to counter a House-passed measure that would permit utility companies to terminate service for delinquent customers on a Friday.
Stack says his bill will give people a little more protection; instead of a Friday shutoff, it would occur on Monday “so that people don’t get stranded over the weekend and it gives [for example] a waitress who is waiting tables to support her family as you see a lot, more and more people scrambling in this tough economy just to pay their bills, it gives that person extra days necessary to pay that bill.”
Stack says customers that are hit with shutoff notices can turn to community agencies for help, but with Friday shutoffs, some social service programs are not available over the weekend, and most banks that could loan cash to help utility customers at risk of losing powers are also closed.
“It’s (HB 939) clearly intended to be punitive,” Stack says. “It’s so much more expensive if you do get the ability to turn back on over the weekend. You often have to pay overtime to the folks who work for the utility. You then tack on more bills on the person who is already struggling."
Stack’s measure would also extend for another five years Pennsylvania’s “Responsible Utility Consumer Protection Act” which was passed in 2004 and is scheduled to sunset at the end of next year. Act 201, as it’s known, is intended to protect responsible bill-paying customers from rate increases attributable to uncollected accounts of customers who can afford to pay their bills but choose not to do so.
Under Act 201, utilities are required to send a 10-day notice of termination of service. Service can be shut off during the winter months (Dec. 1-March 31) only if the household’s income is exceeds 250 percent of the federal poverty level.