WV Utility Cutoffs to Resume; a “Catastrophic” Hardship for Some
Friday, July 3, 2020
CHARLESTON, W. Va. - A ban on West Virginia utility shutoffs during the pandemic has ended this week, leaving many customers scrambling to pay overdue bills to avoid disconnection.
In March, the West Virginia Public Service Commission had ordered electric, water and gas providers to halt service disconnections, as so many people faced COVID-19-related unemployment. And although the state continues to reopen, Seth DiStefano - policy outreach director with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy - says the financial burden continues for many households.
"What we're going to have here is, you know, in addition to skyrocketing food insecurity, you know, in addition to people being worried about just simply putting food on the table," says DiStefano, "they very well may not have water to boil for dinner, or even wash their hands or do laundry."
Some organizations in the state, like Connecting Link in Morgantown and Fairmont, are providing emergency assistance for folks facing utility cutoffs. Visit 'Connecting Link' online for help.
DiStefano points out that thousands of people still rely on unemployment benefits to make ends meet. He calls the unemployment provision in the CARES Act the single biggest factor in keeping West Virginia's economy from completely collapsing.
But that portion, $600 a week, is set to expire at the end of the month.
"That $600 a week is keeping the rent paid, it's keeping utilities on," says DiStefano, "If that goes away, it is going to be catastrophic, I think. For working families, for low-income families, it will be bad."
He suggests people call their members of Congress to share their views on extending unemployment benefits or bolstering other support programs, like Medicaid and SNAP. But it's also important to make contact with any utility threatening a shutoff, as some are willing to work with customers who've fallen behind.
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