BALTIMORE — Time is running out on the emergency order halting utility shut-offs. At the beginning of October, delinquent customers started receiving notice that terminations could start as early as November 15.
However, keeping the lights on can be as simple as picking up the phone.
Utilities have pledged to work with customers that contact them, and there are several reasons why customers shouldn't wait any longer.
In March, Governor Hogan first issued a moratorium on utility shutoffs. It was re-upped in April then May, June, July, and the day before it was set to expire, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) took emergency action pushing the date to November 15.
Another reprieve is unlikely.
According to a PSC spokeswoman, the Commission, at this time, has given no indication that it will extend the moratorium.
"Customers have 45 days [after receiving a notice] before they would actually be eligible for disconnect," said Tamla Olivier, chief customer officer and SVP of customer operations for BGE.
This window nearly tripled from the typical 14 day warning, and is one of the protections meant to help customers avoid service termination.
“We have various payment options that we have put in place, up to 12 months for payment arrangements and those arrangements can be as little as $10 a month. And for those customers that are eligible for energy assistance, those arrangements can go up to 24 months,” said Olivier.
BGE has seen a significant increase in customers with past due bills. Year-over-year, customers more than 30 days late jumped from 124,000 to 160,000. And the amount owed doubled from $40 million to $80 million.
The PSC said customers that either work out a payment plan with their utility, or apply for energy assistance programs will not have service disconnected.
If you need another reason to act quickly, time isn’t the only thing running out.
“Energy assistance funds that are there are first-come first-serve,” said Olivier.
Around $100 million is available through the Office of Home Energy Programs (OHEP), but that’s for the entire state, and it’s only around a third of the arrearages reported to the PSC.
Utilities are now stressing that they will work with you, if you work with them.
“Please call us now because we can help. We can assist. You don’t have to go through this process and be stressed out by yourself, we can work through this with you to take some of that burden off your shoulders,” Olivier said.
Scammers are taking advantage of the large number of people who have fallen behind on bills by threatening to shut off service unless customers pay immediately.
Olivier added that the president of BGE recently received one of these calls, and BGE is continuing to remind everyone that they will never demand money over the phone. If you have any questions about who you are speaking with, even if the caller ID says BGE, hang up and call them directly at 1-800-685-0123.
For more information on BGE's assistance programs, click here.
To apply for assistance through the state's Office of Home Energy Programs (through the Maryland Department of Human Services) or the Fuel Fund, click here.