Thousands of people are living without gas, power or both because they can’t afford to pay their bills. Now some residents will be able to get their heat restored before the winter.
Rhode Island’s Public Utilities Commission voted to allow customers with outstanding bills to pay just ten percent of their debt upfront and get power and gas restored during the cold winter months. It’s the ninth year in a row they’ve approved the program, which puts residents on a payment program based on what they owe.
Some residents are automatically protected from shutoffs during the winter, but many more lose utilities at other times of year. Camilo Viveiros works with the George Wiley Center, a Pawtucket nonprofit that lobbies for the program.
“People don’t really know about this crisis of shutoffs,” Viveiros said. “We just had a storm, and National Grid was talking about how everyone had their utilities turned back on. Well not for some of our members. For some of our members, they’ve been shut off literally for months.”
Viveiros said he’s hoping the PUC adopts a more permanent program based on a former federal policy.
“And what it simply does is allow for low-income households and fixed-income households to pay according to their income,” Vivieros said. “Unfortunately in the 90s there were some federal cuts to LIHEAP, low-income heating assistance program, and that program has gone into hibernation.”
According to Viveros, about 20,000 Rhode Island households lose power, gas or both because of unpaid bills at some point each year.