WISCONSIN (NBC 26) — Wisconsin regulators voted Thursday to delay shutoffs of utility customers, citing worsening COVID-19 statistics across the state.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) voted 2-1 to hold off on disconnecting customers who are behind on their bills until September 1.
"The Commission is clearly trying to strike a balance here, and clearly there will be costs that come due at some point, but record case numbers in Wisconsin compelled the Commission to act for public health and safety reasons," said Tom Content of the Citizens Utility Board.
"The commissioners made the right call, given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic. They clearly didn't want to risk allowing shutoffs to commence which could lead to lives lost due to utility disconnections," Content said.
Last week the Citizens Utility Board urged utilities to be flexible with customers who are behind on their bill. They asked companies to hold off on disconnecting customers until October.
The Commission said since the last meeting on the topic, which was more than a month ago, PSC staff indicated 71,000 households were at risk of having utilities shut off.
"Clearly there are a lot of folks who are hurting, and this is the time to be connecting them with available resources," said Content.
According to commissioners, they will revisit the issue at a meeting planned for August 20.
Wisconsin has $8 million of energy assistance for low income customers available through the Federal Cares Act. The state, along with Dane and Milwaukee counties, has $45 million in rental assistance funding designed to stave off evictions.
Congress is expected to vote in the coming weeks on a pandemic response bill, and utilities and consumer advocates alike have called for it to include billions more nationwide for energy assistance. A version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives included expanded funding for energy assistance, rental assistance and also created a fund to support water utility customers hard hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic.
Information about resources for utility customers is available on the Citizens Utility Board website.