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Thousands of Hoosiers at risk of having power shut off

Posted at 9:51 PM, Aug 11, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS — On Friday, the moratoriums on evictions, foreclosures, and utility disconnections are set to expire.

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced last week he will not extend the moratoriums. Though the moratoriums may no longer offer protection, there may still be a chance for customers to get an extension to pay their energy bills.

This could be the last hope for customers struggling and who were unable to pay their utility bills the past two months. Though the governor said he intends on ending the state's moratorium on shutting off power, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission also has a moratorium of their own for jurisdictional utilities that they're expected to decide Wednesday whether to extend or not.

"It's way to early to let this shut off moratorium expire and put Lord knows how many people at risk," Kerwin Olson, director of the Citizens Action Coalition, said.

The IURC's moratorium for jurisdictional utilities is set to expire Aug. 14, which currently prohibits the disconnection of any utility service including gas, water, sewer and electric.

But the Citizens Action Coalition, along with the Sierra Club and other agencies, filed a motion on Monday asking the commission to extend that indefinitely.

"It will put hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers at risk of losing things like running water, electricity, access to the internet as well as telephone service," Olson said.

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor aggregated some date indicating how many people may be adversely impacted.

"Indianapolis Power and Light shows there's somewhere around 85,000 customers 60 days or later late on their electric bill," Olson said. "Duke Energy has numbers somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 customers who are in excess of 60 days overdue on their utility bills. So just between those two utilities we are well over 100,000 folks facing the threat of disconnection being later than 60 days."

Olson said he fears the rise in COVID-19 cases, continued high unemployment, and the expiration of unemployment benefits demonstrates why it's an issue.

"The evidence shows that we are still at a health crisis, we are still in an economic crisis and there's no moral justification for letting that shut off moratorium expire," Olson said. "In fact, evidence shows just the opposite."

Hoping if the moratorium does in fact expire Friday that utility companies will at least provide some flexibility, giving customers at least a month to make payment arrangements.

"We are talking about extraordinary economic circumstances," Olson said. "We should give Hoosiers the opportunity to catch up in a reasonable fashion."

Utilities including Duke Energy and Citizens Energy Group have said they will not voluntarily disconnect folks until after Sept. 1. They are encouraging customers to reach out to them to make payment arrangements.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the last name of Citizens Action Coalition executive director Kerwin Olson. The story has been corrected. WRTV regrets the error.