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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: August 5, 2020 12:03 PM
From: Senator Steven J. Santarsiero
To: All Senate members
Subject: Utility CARES Assistance
In the near future, I plan on introducing legislation to direct CARES money for utility assistance across the Commonwealth.

We are in unprecedented times.  The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted many Pennsylvania families.  While we have worked hard to provide hazard pay, rental and mortgage assistance, and small business assistance, we have yet to address utility assistance.  It is my belief unpaid utility bills are a boiling pot about to simmer over. A recent article in the Washington Post found that as many as 1 million families in North Carolina have fallen behind on their electric, water and sewage bills which totaled $218 million between April and June. 
Advocates and utility companies in Pennsylvania estimate the total need for utility assistance could be as high as $500 million across the Commonwealth. 
My plan would be two-fold. 
The first part of the plan would appropriate additional money to the traditional LIHEAP program.  This would provide additional assistance to lower-income individuals. 
The second part of the plan would appropriate the remaining money to the Department of Human Services to assist middle income individuals and families who have fallen behind on their utility bills.  My proposal would allow utility companies to apply through the Department of Human Services for assistance on behalf of residential customers.  Eligible utilities include: electric distribution companies, natural gas distribution companies, heating oil companies, liquid propane companies, water companies, wastewater companies, municipal-owned authorities and electric cooperatives. 
The utility companies would be required to apply the money received through the Department of Human Services to residential customer accounts.  A complete accounting of how the money is applied would be required of the utility company.  If a utility company agrees to take the funding, they must provide self-certifications from the residential customer that they have either received unemployment or experienced a 30% loss of income.  Utility assistance would be capped at $100 per utility per residential customer and could be applied to no more than 6 months of utilities between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
This program would include customer protection provisions including limitations on applying funds to costs other than utility bills, such as reconnection costs, and would allow residential consumers and utility companies to enter into affordable repayment plans for any outstanding utility costs.
Please join me in sponsoring this legislation.

Introduced as SB1310