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Pennsylvania Lifts Moratorium On Utility Shutoffs Despite Earlier Pledge To Keep It In Place For Duration Of Pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) -- Pennsylvania is lifting its blanket moratorium on utility shutoffs, despite an earlier pledge to keep it in place for the duration of the pandemic. The state Public Utility Commission announced Thursday that utilities may disconnect electric, gas, water and other utility services for some customers beginning Nov. 9.

In March, the commission said that no utility may terminate service so long as Gov. Tom Wolf's disaster emergency declaration remained in effect. Wolf has not lifted the emergency order.

"The moratorium on utility service terminations was the right decision to make in March, but the moratorium cannot be the sole solution for assisting vulnerable utility customers," Gladys Brown Dutrieuille, the commission chairperson, wrote in a motion to amend the moratorium.

In place of a total ban on utility shutoffs, the regulatory commission enacted safeguards that it said would protect small businesses and residential customers hit hardest by the economic downturn.

Under the new rules, households whose incomes fall within 300% of the federal poverty level — which translates into $78,600 per year for a family of four — will remain protected from termination, officials said. The commission typically imposes a winter moratorium on utility shutoffs for households earning less than 250% of federal poverty guidelines.

Utilities must also offer payment plans for past-due balances to small business customers, and take other steps to help customers maintain utility service, the commission said.

This comes after a group of protesters gathered in Philadelphia to demand an extension of the moratorium. Demonstrators also asked for households currently cutoff from utilities to be restored and for COVID-19-related utility debts to be canceled.

"The PUC and PGW need to take better accountability for the lack of service, the lack of genuine care and protection for our city," Pennsylvania Debt Collective organizer Lauren Horner said "We are tired of this. We are tired of the greed displayed by these organizations."

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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