Department of Commerce – The emergency proclamation preventing shut-off of water, electricity or natural gas services is slated to end Sept. 30.
It is among the many emergency measures enacted by Gov. Jay Inslee in the wake of COVID-19.
According to the Department of Commerce, state leaders and utility operators estimate more than 500,000 Washingtonians have overdue bills that could result in their services being shut off.
“This moratorium has provided hundreds of thousands of Washington families much-needed peace of mind during the pandemic, and now utility companies are eager and ready to help their customers make a plan that keeps their services on,” Inslee said. “I urge people make that call as soon as they can. That call can give a family one less thing to worry about as fall and winter approaches.”
“When the pandemic first hit, we committed that no customer should go without lights, heat or hot water,” said Puget Sound Energy President and CEO Mary Kipp. “We stand by that as the pandemic continues to impact customers more than a year later with a level of assistance that is unprecedented and which can make a significant difference for our customers.”
“The state’s not-for-profit, community-owned utilities are committed to working with our customers facing arrearages due to the impact of COVID,” said Washington PUD Association Executive Director George Caan. “Our efforts continue to focus on making contact with customers, connecting them with assistance and working with our customers to establish a pathway to recovery.”
Washington’s private investor-owned energy utilities – which cover about half the state’s customers – have more than 280,000 customers with overdue bills.
They’ve provided more than $28.5 million in assistance funds during the pandemic.
Almost $20 million of that funding was through COVID-19 assistance programs. Washington’s consumer-owned utilities – which serve nearly 60% of Washington households – initiated a wide range of measures to keep customers connected to essential services.
These include suspending disconnections and late fees, delaying scheduled rate increases, setting up payment plans for customers, instituting new payment relief programs and expanding eligibility criteria for existing programs, holding fundraisers to support utility assistance programs, and applying deposits to existing bills.
In addition, consumer-owned utilities connected customers to federal aid and, in some cases, partnered with county and city governments to direct a portion of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to support utility bill assistance.
Customer assistance options will differ across utility providers. Options that customers can ask about include:
Private, investor-owned water and energy utilities regulated by the Utilities and Transportation Commission cannot charge late fees or deposits until April 2022 and must offer long-term payment plan options up to 18 months.
They must also notify the commission before disconnecting any customers when the moratorium ends, so commission staff can ensure customers were properly notified about the disconnection and made aware of assistance options.
Public, community-owned utilities are governed by locally elected officials. Community-owned, not-for-profit utilities’ policies will vary according to local needs.
Community-owned energy and water utilities are encouraged to:
“I am grateful that utilities across the state are stepping up and working to assist their customers,” said Dave Danner, chair of the UTC. “These are unprecedented times and this calls for taking unprecedented steps as we work towards recovery.”
For more information, customers can visit commerce.wa.gov/utility-assistance.