President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nicholas A. Mattiello recently wrote to the Public Utilities Commission advocating that they modify utility termination/restoration rules to ensure that Rhode Islanders struggling financially do not face a winter without heat and electricity.
In a letter sent to the PUC last month, the two legislative leaders communicated their support for an emergency regulation to help restore gas and electric services to LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) eligible utility customers who are able to make required payments on their unpaid bills. “This would afford the most vulnerable consumers an achievable accommodation in order to ensure continued or renewed utility service heading into the winter months,” they wrote.
Last week, the PUC voted to adopt new emergency regulations, based on a request from the George Wiley Center to revise the down-payment and repayment plans for customers facing termination of utility service. Under the new rules, consumers with an arrearage of less than $1,000 will be able to avoid service termination upon payment of 20 percent of the balance owed and payment of the balance within 18 months. For those owing between $1,000 and $2,500, 15 percent of the arrearage must be paid with the balance due within the following 24 months. Those owing more than $2,500 will be required to pay 10 percent of the amount due, with 36 months to pay the remaining balance. These new minimum payment plans are more accommodating than those previously in place.
President Paiva Weed and Speaker Mattiello said in their letter to the PUC, “we encourage you to listen to the input of the consumer advocacy community to ensure a solution that prevents harm to Rhode Islanders who are struggling during these difficult financial times.”
“Many Rhode Islanders face the prospect of trying to survive the approaching winter without heat for their homes,” wrote President Paiva Weed and Speaker Mattiello. “Action is needed once again to help low-income households. We hope you will consider assisting financially-needy Rhode Island families, elderly persons, individuals with disabilities and other who are living with limited incomes to survive the approaching cold weather.”
The legislative leaders said that approving the emergency rules will give struggling households the opportunity to responsibly repay back bills while saving other ratepayers the cost of account balances that would otherwise be written off by the utility company as uncollectible.