Senior News Briefs

June 1, 2024 at 8:05 p.m.

PSE to Resume Shutting Off Power for Residents Behind on Payments, Including Households with Vulnerable Seniors

Puget Sound Energy (PSE), Washington’s largest utility, announced a new plan for disconnecting customers who are behind on their utility bills. This plan will increase the number of customer disconnections for non-payment to levels not seen since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Tens of thousands of vulnerable and low-income households, previously protected from utility disconnections during and after the pandemic, are now at risk of losing access to power and heat.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission approved the request, allowing PSE to resume sending disconnection notices to customers who have high past-due balances of 90 days or more and gradually moving to customers owing as little as $250.

Washington State Community Action Partnership (WSCAP), Front and Centered, NW Energy Coalition, and the Sierra Club advised the Commission to keep disconnection protection in place for customers enrolled in bill discount or bill assistance programs, customers in highly impacted or overburdened communities, and customers who declare a situation where disconnection would put their health or housing at risk. Such customers include homebound and medically fragile seniors and families with small children.

"Research highlights the extreme consequences disconnections have on vulnerable and low-income customers, including not being able to afford other basic necessities like food and medicine or even being evicted from rental properties,” said Yochi Zakai, an attorney representing WSCAP. The Commission granted PSE’s request to break its disconnection protection agreement despite being presented with this research.

“Instead of resorting to punishing customers struggling to afford their bills, we need utilities to implement models that increase communications with residential customers behind on payments to help them take advantage of available financial assistance programs or get them into payment and budget plans," said Shaylee Stokes, director of The Energy Project, a program of WSCAP. 


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