MONTPELIER — The Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) is lifting its temporary moratorium on utility disconnections as of next Thursday, and ordering new consumer protections for customers facing economic hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the moratorium is lifted, the state Department of Public Service is urging customers with past-due balances to take advantage of the Vermont COVID-19 Arrearage Assistance Program (VCAAP). That $8 million program is funded by federal coronavirus relief funds, and those dollars must be spent by Dec. 30.
Through VCAAP, the Department intends to distribute up to $8 million until funding runs out. It is hoped that these funds will minimize or even eliminate past-due balances incurred by residential and business customers who have been unable to pay their bills due to impacts from COVID-19. But if those customers do not apply for assistance, the VCAAP funds will expire this December.
Utility customers who have past-due balances are to visit the following website as soon as possible for details on the VCAAP and how to apply: publicservice.vermont.gov/content/vermont-covid-19-arrearage-assistance-program-0.
The shutoff moratorium, issued by the commission on March 18, halted involuntary utility service disconnections in Vermont indefinitely as the state dealt with the economic and public health effects of the pandemic. The moratorium was extended several times.
But last month, the PUC was made aware by utilities, and by the Department of Public Service, that many utility customers have not been taking advantage of the VCAAP or responding to efforts by utilities to settle past-due balances.
“For this reason, the Department and these utilities encouraged the Commission to end the moratorium so that customers would work with their utilities and take advantage of the time-limited VCAAP funds and other resources that can help consumers,” the commission said in a news release.
In addition, new emergency rules approved by the commission provide mandatory protections for consumers who need assistance with addressing their past-due balances. Under the new rules, utilities are required to inform consumers that VCAAP assistance is available.
Utilities will also be required to provide long-term repayment plans so that consumers have at least 12 months to address outstanding bills.