State senator Christine Cohen announced today she will be introducing a bill in the upcoming legislative session that will aim to stem the rising number of utility shutoffs.
Announcing it as part of the Senate Democrats press conference, Cohen stated that “utility customer that fall behind on their bails are all to often not given enough time or information before their services are shut off, even if they should be receiving protection from winter shutoffs.”
Cohen noted that while some of the shutoffs are due to hardships, others are not, and can be easily avoided.
“The annual number of shutoffs are going in the wrong direction,” she said. “In 2018, the number of shutoffs had more than doubled…in Connecticut, we saw over 80,000 shutoffs, and only about 7,300 of those shutoffs were due to hardships.
According to Cohen, there are many of those not receiving aid that are eligible to obtain it, but the utility companies do not do enough to notify residents of an upcoming shutoff, and fail to give direction to obtain aid or social services that can help unless a specific request is initiated by the customer.
Utility companies have lagged behind many other service providers, such as cable and cell phone companies, in making multiple attempts to notify consumers of a pending shutoff. While many service provides use regular text messaging and emails, utility companies often rely only on standard mail, and options to sig up for text messages are often difficult to find, and information regarding potential aid is only given if specifically requested.
“Those unable to pay may not realize they have options,” Cohen explained. “Conversely, many shutoffs have been not the product of a hardship; many resulted in a same day activation, indication there may not have bee an inability to pay, but rather an overlooking of a situation.
“We know that in this day and age, most people have cellular service, why not require utility companies be text their customers if shutoff is imminent?”
While statistics show many shutoffs result in same day or next day reactivation, it stands to reason that if the customer could afford to cover back charges to get services reactivated within 24 hours, they would likely be able to avoid interruption if notified via text 24 hours prior.
Reactivation generally adds additional fees to consumers as well, with utility companies often charging more for same day reactivation in excess of $100. Customers have few options at that point, loss of electricity overnight can cause a significant loss of food and money for a household.
The proposed law, according to Cohen, will proactively inform customers of the hardship and low income protection programs that exist; require, as opposed to an opt-in program, the utility companies use text messaging to reach customers prior to a shutoff; and also potentially mandate payment arrangements be allowed to cover back bills.