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Thousands of families at risk of utility shutoffs as Maryland moratorium ends

Maryland's moratorium on electricity shutoffs ends Sunday, but Pepco says no cutoffs until January. DC and Virginia residents will likely have more time too.

BETHESDA, Md. — A potentially big hit may be coming soon for thousands of Maryland families.

The state's moratorium on utility shutoffs ends Sunday, November 15, even as COVID is spiking.

Pepco said 132,600 customers in Montgomery and Prince George's were behind on payments as of Oct. 1. But the power company now plans to give them a little more time.

D.C.'s moratorium on utility cutoffs continues at least until the middle of January.

In Virginia, Peggy R. Fox, a spokeswoman for Dominion, said the company will not disconnect people if they can't pay during the pandemic. Dominion is also forgiving past due bills through the end of September.

"I'm looking at the longest time I've been out of work in quite some time," said Mike Jones of Montgomery Village, who has been managing restaurants since he left his job at the White House in the Clinton Administration.

He said hasn't had paying work since the pandemic hit in March, and his unemployment has run out. 

"Pretty concerned right now," said Jones.

He's put off his Pepco bill just to pay the rent on his townhome. He now owes more than $1,800. As soon as the Public Service Commission allowed it, the utility sent him a letter warning he was in jeopardy of disconnection.

"How do you recharge those laptops in the dark, much less take care of your family?" he said as he worried about other families who are also behind and trying to navigate schooling and working from home. "A lot of those people are in the restaurant community. And they have families."

Maryland had extended its moratorium on utility cutoffs for two months. But it expires this weekend.

A spokeswoman for Pepco said it will just start sending formal disconnection warnings next week, and won't cut anyone's power until January. 

"Our message is very simple. Disconnections are the last resort. So we want our customers to call us," said Christina Harper.

She said there is local and federal money to help desperate families -- but it says the first step is to call.

Jones said he's already tried that, but because he is single, he is last in line for that aid. And he said he can't afford the $1,800 bill even if he's allowed to pay it monthly over the course of a year.

Pepco offered additional details in a statement on what it's doing: 

Pepco Customer Care will work with customers who may have difficulty paying their energy bill. The company offers 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. Contact Pepco at 202-833-7500 to review payment options. 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.

  • Additional steps taken by Pepco to support customers and our local communities.

At Pepco, as part of our comprehensive response to the pandemic, we have made the following contributions of shareholder dollars to support our customers through this crisis:

    • $825,000 to the United Way of the National Capital Area and a relief fund established by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
    • Working in partnership with already established recovery programs, we made $850,000 available to small businesses in the District of Columbia as well as Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
    • Through the Pepco Community Scholars Program we provided $400,000 to The University of the District of Columbia, Prince George’s Community College and Montgomery College for scholarships to local residents that will help them gain the skills needed to join the energy workforce of tomorrow.
    • Our employees raised an additional $87,000 through an effort launched by our Employee Resource Groups and supported through a company and executive match support.

  • 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.
    • Maryland residents can apply for LIHEAP energy assistance through the Department of Human Services website by calling the Office of Home Energy Programs at 1-800-332-6347. Customers are awarded grants based on a household’s income, size and type of fuel, with no pay back required
      • Up to $1,000 in grant support per customer is available, depending on a household’s income, size and type of fuel, with no pay back required.
    • Additional assistance for customers in Maryland is available from the Maryland Office of Home Energy Programs through the Electric Universal Service Program (EUSP), the Utility Service Protection Plan (USPP) and the Arrearage Retirement Assistance Program (ARA). To apply for any of these programs, customers can contact the Office of Home Energy Programs in their area, call 1-800-332-6347 or visit http://dhr.maryland.gov/office-of-home-energy-programs.

Interfaith Works provides emergency assistance to income eligible customers in Montgomery County, Maryland. Customers can call 301-762-8682.

    1. With the Gift of Energy, anyone can make a payment towards a friend or family member’s energy bill. A Gift of Energy will appear on the recipient’s bill as a credit to their account. The provider can give any amount to any customer they choose.
    2. Customers who have the ability to do so can support the Good Neighbor Energy Fund by adding exactly $1 to your next bill payment. We will match your donation and those funds will go to someone in need of energy assistance.
    3. Through our Budget Billing program, customers can avoid seasonal peaks in their energy bills by dividing their payments evenly over the course of the entire year. This plan makes it easier for customers to budget and pay their bill each month, because they will know their regular payment amount.
    4. We offer a variety of individually tailored payment arrangements aimed at bringing the account up to date over a mutually agreeable period of time.
    5. For customers whose main source of household income is from government or other low-income entitlement programs, they may qualify for a regular extension of their bill due date without incurring a late charge.
    6. Customers who wish to learn more or take advantage of these important programs can visit pepco.com/help or call 1-877-PEPCO-62.