Bill Would Allow Virginians to Create Debt Repayment Plans After Utility Disconnect Moratorium Ends
Today, the Virginia Senate passed Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s (D-Richmond) bill to provide relief for Virginians facing debt on utility bills during the Coronavirus crisis. The Senate passed McClellan’s bill, SB 5118, by a 24-12 margin. Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg) has proposed companion legislation in the House.
In March, the State Corporation Commission (SCC) imposed a moratorium on disconnection for nonpayment of electric, gas, and water bills, which is due to expire today. At Governor Ralph Northam’s request, the SCC has extended this moratorium through October 5. The General Assembly is reviewing Governor Northam’s proposed budget language further extending the moratorium.
During five months of utility disconnect moratorium, many Virginians have accrued significant debt. McClellan’s bill ensures that the debt accrued during the moratorium is extended in a way that eases the burden on residential customers. It would create an up to 12-month repayment period, with no penalties, late fees, finance charges, or application fees. This would extend the utility disconnect moratorium, as long as a customer’s debt repayment plan is in good standing.
“No Virginian should have their lights or water shut off because of the Coronavirus economic crisis,” said Sen. McClellan. “This bill is a common-sense solution to ensure that Virginians can repay debt over time, and don’t face a crushing mountain of utility debt at the end of the moratorium. I look forward to working with the House and the Governor to pass this critical legislation to protect Virginia families struggling during this economic crisis.”
“Virginia’s families are already overburdened and struggling both financially and with additional stresses around job or income loss, potential threats to losing the roof over their heads, and new rules for childcare and schooling, all while remaining vigilant on protecting the health of themselves and their loved ones, making consistent access to utilities even more important,” said Dana Wiggins, a consumer advocate with the Virginia Poverty Law Center. “We are all facing unprecedented times and circumstances and we are grateful to Senator McClellan for recognizing the importance of extending the SCC repayment plan option when the current utility shut off moratorium is over, and sponsoring a bill that works in conjunction with the budget language proposed by the Governor to extend the utility shutoff moratorium while we are still in recovery and which has important enhancements to help all utility customers as we move forward.