At their July 13th meeting, the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted to extend the state’s moratorium on utility shutoffs by National Grid through November 1st, 2020 for low-income utility customers and through September 30th, 2020 for all other residential utility customers.
Citing a number of the arguments articulated in the Public Comment submitted by the Center for Justice — including public health and educational equity concerns related to the possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19 in Rhode Island, and the need to provide protections to all residential customers (as opposed to just low-income residents) due to the instability of the current economic crisis — the PUC passed the extension of the moratorium unanimously. However, the extended moratorium will apply only to electric and gas shutoffs by National Grid, not the non-investor-owned utilities (Pascoag and Block Island) or water and sewer utilities.
Commissioner Abigail Anthony’s discussion of the need for the continued moratorium emphasized an issue raised by CFJ about the lack of effectiveness and sustainability of the current payment plan options for low-income Rhode Islanders. The Center, in its Public Comment, argued that Rhode Island’s experience with coronavirus has underscored how profoundly our state needs to implement a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) that can generate a sustainably payable bill for utility customers and more predictable payments for the utility. The experience in this pandemic has underscored the importance of utility payments that are adjusted when people lose their jobs and suffer a loss of income, for example during and through public health emergencies, economic and environmental crises, and other shocks we are likely to face with potentially more frequency in the coming years. While she did not explicitly reference PIPP, Anthony spoke at length about how the moratorium does not fully address the underlying problem that too many residents cannot afford to sustainably pay for utilities under the current system, and expressed hope that the PUC will investigate more progressive billing schemes in the future.