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Virginia SCC extends ban on utility disconnections to June 14

(KOTA)
Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 4:49 PM EDT
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UPDATE (April 9):

After Attorney General Mark Herring called on Virginia's State Corporation Commission to extended their

through at least the end of Virginia's state of emergency and 'Stay at Home' order, currently each set to run until June 10, the SCC says they're pushing their order to June 14.

The commission's order, which suspends all utility service disconnections during the COVID-19 pandemic, including electricity, gas, water, and sewer, was set to end on May 15.

“While we fervently wish otherwise … it appears that the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are unlikely to abate significantly” by mid-May, making the extension order necessary, the SCC said in a statement.

Although the ban on disconnections is being extended to June 14, the commission is cautioning customers that their utility bills will still be owed payment once the order ends.

In its order, the SCC wrote, “If such bills are never paid, the costs of these unpaid bills (accounts uncollectible) … do not disappear; they are shifted to other customers, who themselves may be struggling to make ends meet in the economic catastrophe caused by the pandemic.”

The SCC also noted that its original order and the extension are intended "to protect those Virginia residential and business customers who, through no fault of their own, become temporarily unable to access sufficient cash to pay their utility bills on a timely basis due to the severe economic consequences” of the pandemic.

The order is not retroactive to earlier unpaid bills caused by the COVID-19 crisis, though Attorney General Herring had called for the SCC to consider reconnecting service for any customers who request reconnection who had had their service disconnected before the March 16 Suspension Order.

That said, some companies have chosen voluntarily to reconnect past customers.

The Commission also strongly urges utilities to:

• Make extraordinary efforts to avoid disconnections for medically vulnerable customers.

• Work with customers already in arrears or disconnected who are seeking reconnection.

• Offer extended or flexible payment plans until the emergency has passed.

• Waive reconnection fees.

For customers whose missed payments are due to COVID-19, the SCC has also ordered that late payment fees not be assessed.

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ORIGINAL STORY (April 7):

Virginia's attorney general is asking the state's regulatory agency to extend the suspension of utility disconnections for the length of Virginia's state of emergency and 'Stay at Home' order.

Last month, the State Corporation Commission (SCC)

for 60 days.

With that order taking effect on March 16, disconnections were effectively halted through mid-May. But Gov. Northam's 'Stay at Home' order and the state of emergency for Virginia extend through June 10 at this point.

If the status of cases changes and Virginia gets to the other side of a peak in the 'curve' of cases before that time, that date can be changed to an earlier time.

Now, on April 7, Attorney General Mark R. Herring officially asked the SCC to extend its utility disconnection suspension through June 10 as well.

Late charges have also been suspended by the SCC, following Attorney General Herring’s emergency petition requesting a freeze on disconnections. The move came after many utility companies, like SVEC, had

to suspend disconnections and late fees.

“As we continue to grapple with the health and financial crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that this extension is needed to make sure that all Virginians have access to water, power and gas during the entirety of the state of emergency,” said Attorney General Herring. “This extension is especially important for hourly wage earners and those who work in the service industry who have been particularly affected by social distancing efforts and stay at home orders. I hope the SCC will continue to give Virginians some peace of mind during this time while we continue to ask them to stay home to prevent further spread of this virus.”

In Herring's latest filing, he wrote "the temporary suspension of service disconnections for reason of non-payment is needed to minimize adverse impacts on the public health and safety during this period of health and financial crisis.”

Herring continued, "during the immediate time of this emergency, the public interest requires that basic needs such as power, heat, and water go uninterrupted for all customers.”

While disconnections and late fees for payments missed throughout the pandemic have been suspended, it's important to remember that customers will still need to eventually pay all those utility bills.

If customers have the financial ability to pay their bills, Herring encourages them to do so to avoid higher balances accumulating once the suspensions of disconnections end as the pandemic eventually wanes.

Herring is also asking the SCC to consider reconnecting service for any customers who request reconnection who had had their service disconnected before the March 16 Suspension Order, waiving requirements that make it harder for utilities to re-connect service and suspending late fees.

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