SeniorLAW Center joined forces with Community Legal Services, AARP PA and others in successfully encouraging The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to continue its moratorium on utility shutoffs. If the moratorium had bee lifted, termination notices would have gone out almost immediately with devastating effects on older, vulnerable and low-income people, families, those who have lost employment, and others severely impacted by COVID-19.
Across Pennsylvania and the world, older people are the most at risk to the virus and most likely to die. Those who are frail and/or with underlying health conditions continue to be at enormous risk of the virus and need to continue to shelter at home during this phase of the crisis.
Just last week our attorneys helped an elderly tenant get her electricity restored quickly because of the moratorium. Our client is a disabled senior citizen who uses a wheelchair and a service dog. The electricity had been shut off in her apartment, and she was spending all her time in her building’s basement because the power was on down there. The basement has no working bathroom, so she was having to use a bucket to relieve herself. We were able to get her electricity turned on the same day she called, and she was able to move back up to her apartment right away because of the moratorium. We are working with her now to determine why, despite paying her bills in a timely matter and living in her apartment for years, a balance from another address was added to her account and helping her to resolve the issue. She is exactly the type of consumer who will be at risk if the moratorium is lifted.
Continuing the moratorium on utility shutoffs is consistent with Governor Wolf’s recent extension of the prohibitions on evictions and foreclosures until August 31, 2020 to protect vulnerable Pennsylvanians from being removed from their homes during the pandemic. Many Pennsylvanians would have been effectively made homeless from the loss of utility services and forced to seek shelter with loved ones or in congregate emergency shelter. Needless to say, congregate shelter has been deadly for older people. Both of these situations would have exacerbated the public health crisis, putting our communities at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, and further burdening Pennsylvania’s already overextended economy and health system.
We know that utility shut-offs also disproportionately impact people of color and older people. In this sweltering heat and the increased need for additional cooling, and water for medical and respiratory support equipment, utility disconnections are a life or death matter for many. We commend the PUC for continuing to look into alternatives in this crisis.
Read our letter of support here.