ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland residents who are behind on their utility bills may receive termination notices from utility companies in Maryland starting Thursday.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order prohibiting utility service shutoffs and late fees originally expired on September 1, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission [Maryland-PSC].
During hearings to examine the financial impact of the coronavirus on utility customers during the summer, the Maryland-PSC decided service terminations would be prohibited through November 15.
As a part of that ruling, termination notices can be sent out as early as October 1.
According to Maryland-PSC, customers typically receive 14 days’ notice before their service may be terminated by a utility company. Now, they will receive 45 days’ notice.
The Maryland-PSC also says customers who owe money have 45 days from receipt of a notice to work out a payment plan with their utility company or to apply for energy assistance programs. Customers who do so, will not have their service disconnected.
“It is important that customers behind on their utility bills not wait for a turnoff notice or, when they receive one, to contact their utility right away and work with them to discuss payment plans and bill assistance programs that are available to help them,” said Maryland PSC Chairman Jason Stanek in an August news release.
Still, the situation has some Maryland residents worried.
Leticia Juarez lives in Langley Park. She said through a translator that money is tight in her household because her husband, who works in the home remodeling industry, has lost income due to the coronavirus’ spread.
“I have always paid my electricity and rent on time,” she said. “ [But] I am worried because I have three daughters and this will affect them.”
She says she’s trying to pay, but her utility company denied her a payment plan because she had already had one in the past.
Juarez said she is hopeful everything will turn out well for her family in the end. However, she said lawmakers need to step in to help any Maryland families that may fall through the cracks.
“People like me who don’t have papers — we didn’t come to rob or steal,” she said. “Just the opposite. We came to work, to grow the economy. They should put their hands on their hearts and help.”
Cathryn Paul works as a research and policy analyst with CASA, an advocacy organization that works on the behalf of immigrant and working-class families in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
She said over the last few months, CASA’s offices have been inundated with calls from families who cannot pay their rent.
“So, adding a utility cut off, on top of that, when people are all already worried about keeping a roof over their head, I'm really worried,” Paul said.
She said CASA has concerns some Maryland residents could be left behind just due to language barriers.
“Not just negotiating with landlords and utility providers, but also negotiating or also just getting information from the government about relief,” Paul said.
She added the organization the Maryland legislature has not stepped in to further extend the state’s moratorium on utility shut-offs.
Stanek said Maryland-PSC is working to hold utility companies responsible for proactive outreach to their customers to let them know what assistance programs are available.
“The Commission is holding utilities responsible for proactive outreach to their customers to let them know about utility, state and community resources that are available to assist customers who are unable to pay their bills due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and to keep customers in service if they enter into a payment arrangement,” he said.
Pepco spokesperson Christina Harper told WUSA9 the utility company is committed to helping residents in Maryland who may need assistance paying their bills.
“At Pepco, we understand our customers and communities have been significantly affected by the pandemic,” she said. “That’s why, ahead of any state directive, we suspended service disconnections and late fees and reconnected customers who were without service prior to the pandemic wherever it was safe to do so. We are committed to helping every customer through difficult times.”
The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative [SMECO] sent a postcard to 10,000 residential customers with balances of more than $300 asking them if they need help with their bills.
“From the start of the pandemic, SMECO has been very proactive in communicating with our members to contact us if they are having trouble with paying their electric bills,” said SMECO Thomas Dennison. “We will work with them to set up payment arrangements; work with them to find assistance and do whatever we can to help them keep their lights on.”
Maryland-PSC points out utility customers should also know utility companies must offer a minimum payment plan of 12 months or 24 months for customers who receive energy assistance from Maryland’s Office of Home Energy Programs.
The agency also says utility companies 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.
More from Pepco:
Pepco encourages customers that may have trouble paying their energy bills to visit pepco.com/help or call 202-833-7500 to learn more or take advantage of important programs that includes. We have a number of assistance and payment options, like Budget Billing, which averages payments over a 12-month period to help customers manage their monthly energy bill, or flexible payment arrangements that offer individually tailored payment installment plans aimed at bringing the account up to date over a mutually agreeable period of time. We also work with our state, federal, and nonprofit partners to connect our customers with grants and programs like LIHEAP, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. In Maryland we are extending payment arrangements for a minimum of 12 months for residential customers and for a minimum of 24 months for extension of limited-income residential customers that are Office of Home Energy Programs-certified.
Disconnections are our LAST RESORT and we employ a comprehensive strategy to drive awareness of these programs, including direct mail, bill inserts, social media, local paid advertising, website messaging and information on our company content hub, The Source.
More from SMECO:
While Maryland was under stay-at-home orders, utilities provided electric service to residential customers regardless of their ability to pay. The Maryland Public Service Commission has authorized utilities to resume sending termination notices beginning October 1 and to resume disconnecting service as of November 15.
If you need help, you can take steps to avoid having your electric service disconnected. Apply for financial assistance from the Office of Home Energy Programs* (OHEP) at www.dhs.maryland.gov/energy.
You may be eligible to set up payment arrangements if you need an extension on paying your bill. Log in to Account Manager and look for the “payment arrangements” link, or call 1-888-440-3311 any time. Let’s work together during these challenging times.