Duquesne Light says one in five residential customers are behind on their bills.By Jon Delano

HARRISBURG (KDKA) – Although the pandemic is not over, the moratorium on utility shutoffs will end on March 31.

That’s the year-long ban on utilities disconnecting customers who fail to pay their bills. Thousands of local utility customers could lose their service.

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On Thursday, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) deadlocked on whether the extend the moratorium on utility shutoffs.

Two Democratic commissioners wanted to extend that to July, but two Republicans did not. That means on April 1, subject to some limitations, utility companies are free to shut off service to those who don’t pay their bills.

“There are nearly one million utility customers who are considered at risk, meaning they could be terminated,” PUC vice chair David Sweet told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Friday.

Sweet, who wanted to extend the moratorium, said the PUC instead approved a motion that allows shutoffs on April 1, but, he says, “basically stretches out payment plans so that people will have more time to pay their utility bills.”

Creating a repayment plan right now with your natural gas, electric or water company could delay a shut-off.

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“If you owe money on your utility bills, call your utility company right now. Ask them to put you on a payment plan. Ask them what help is available for you and let them connect you with the assistance that’s out there,” says Chad Quinn, CEO of the Dollar Energy Fund.

Quinn says there is cash to help homeowners and renters pay their utilities, including money in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, but the best way to access that money is through your utility.

“If you wait until April 1, there are a lot of people who are going to be in line on April 1 to look for assistance. It might be too late,” adds Quinn.

While shutting off service to those who ignore their bills will soon be legal, Sweet notes, “Most utilities don’t want to terminate people. That’s a bad ending.”

This obviously affects a lot of people. About one in five Duquesne Light residential customers, for example, are behind in their bills, the company tells KDKA.

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Most utilities say without the threat of a shut-off, most of their bills will go unpaid.