ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland Public Service Commission on Tuesday allocated $83 million in state funding to utility companies to help pay for the overdue utility bills of struggling residents.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of residents fell behind on their gas and electric bills, totaling around $276 million statewide.
Earlier this year, the Maryland General Assembly passed the RELIEF Act requiring the state to offer financial assistance to those most impacted.
The news comes the same day Governor Larry Hogan announced his intention to lift the COVID-19 State of Emergency on July 1.
To be eligible, outstanding accounts must have accumulated before June 30, 2021.
The grants will be distributed in the following order.
· Category 1: Customers who have received energy assistance from the state’s Office of Home Energy Programs within the last four years (OHEP is a division of the Maryland Department of Human Services);
· Category 2: Customers who have special medical needs certificates on file with their utility; and,
· Category 3: Customers with the oldest arrearages.
The $83 million is expected to eliminate all customer debt in categories 1 and 2.
Funding for those in category 3 will be determined based on how much each utility has left over from their allotments.
Eligible customers don't need to do anything as the funds will automatically appear on their accounts in the coming months.
For BGE customers, that could be as soon as the next one or two billing cycles. BGE is also contacting to inform them of their grant.
Other utility companies are also being directed to communicate with customers regarding what past-due bills may be covered.
They should also provide indebted customers with utility payment plans, and refer them to organizations who can potentially help out including the Maryland Department of Human Resources and the Maryland Fuel Fund.
Utility companies have until October 1 to report back to the commission on how funding was distributed.
That includes a list of customer accounts and the dollar amount applied to each.
A moratorium prohibiting utilities from terminating service to customers in categories 1 and 2 expires on November 1 or when all RELIEF Act funds have been dispersed.
The following protections also remain in effect.
· Termination notices must be sent 45 days in advance (pre-pandemic this was 14 days);
· Residential customers then have 45 days from receipt of a notice to work out a payment plan with their utility or to apply for energy assistance programs. Customers who take either action would not have service disconnected.
· Utilities must offer a minimum payment plan of 12 months (or 24 months for those customers receiving energy assistance from the state’s Office of Home Energy Programs).
· Utilities cannot require a down payment or deposit as a condition of beginning a payment plan for any residential customer, including both current and new customers.