Connecticut’s moratorium preventing utility shut offs officially ended on Wednesday, and customers with unpaid balances could soon be receiving notices in the mail that their electricity could be shut off.
The state’s largest electric utilities, Eversource and United Illuminating, have reported a total of nearly 900,000 customers with some unpaid electric bills, though a large proportion of those are overdue by less than a month. Data from the utilities for customers already enrolled in payment plans show that the average overdue bill is over $1,000 – as some customers had bills pile up during the moratorium that prevented utility disconnections for about 18 months.
Finding those people who are eligible for hardship protections but haven’t been signed up will be key over the next month, said Gannon Long, Director of Policy for Operation Fuel.
The problem of unpaid bills isn’t going away
The moratorium may have encouraged people to pay nothing on their electric bill for 18 month and pile up massive arrearages. That is evident in the 788 requests for assistance Operation Fuel has received between July and September, up 36 percent over 2020 – and that is before a wave of requests they expect starting Wednesday as customers start to receive shut off notices.
Advocates are clear that there is help available. Utilities have existing assistance programs that they will help eligible customers sign up for, and there are special programs for COVID assistance, like the UNITE-CT program that distributes federal aid to help people pay overdue rent and utility bills – which has distributed $82.9 million of its available $212 million, including distributing $3.8 million in utility assistance so far.
There is also Operation Fuel, which offers grants of its own of up to $500 to help people with their overdue electric and heating bills, and can connect them with other assistance programs, get eligible customers designated as having a financial hardship with their utilities, and even connect them to services that can lower their bills long-term, like energy efficiency programs.