The bills are coming due for hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents who’ve fallen behind on utility payments during the COVID-19 crisis.
The statewide moratorium on service cutoffs for nonpayment of bills expires on Thursday. But state officials and utility companies are offering a number of repayment options to cash-strapped consumers.
The moratorium was imposed by an executive order from the Baker administration in March 2020. It was intended to protect citizens thrown out of work by the economic lockdown aimed at halting the COVID pandemic. Electric, gas, and water companies were barred from cutting off service to customers who couldn’t afford to pay their bills. The original order was set to expire in April, but was extended to the end of June.
Even with falling COVID infection rates and a recovering economy, there were nearly 350,000 customers in arrears on their electric bills in June, and more than 170,000 who were behind on their gas bills, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. Both these numbers are down significantly from the previous month, suggesting that consumers have already begun playing catch-up on their utility bills. But those with unpaid balances may soon receive notices warning that their services could be shut off.
These notices will also include advice on how to get help with making utility payments.
For instance, the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program that’s helped millions to pay their rent also offers assistance with utility payments. People earning less than 80 percent of the median income in their area can get up to $1,500 in aid, even if they don’t need help making rent payments. Information on the program is available at Mass.gov/CovidHousingHelp or by dialing 211.
The city of Boston’s Rental Relief Fund can also provide up to $1,500 of help with utility bills. More information is available at 617-635-4200.
In addition, people who need a little extra time can work directly with their utilities.
Companies including National Grid and Eversource are offering partial forgiveness of past-due balances and discounted rates for low-income families. And every household, regardless of income, can reach out to the utilities and set up a 12-month payment plan.
As long as the agreed-upon payments are made, their services won’t be cut off.
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.