Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday signed legislation that once again prevents utilities from shutting off services to the more than 1 million customers who are late paying their bills.
The prior moratorium had lapsed on March 31.
In addition to regulated gas, water and electric utilities, the new law applies to cable and broadband companies, and includes protections for small businesses with 25 or fewer employees. The prior state moratorium didn’t include commercial customers.
The moratorium is extended for a period of 180 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted, or July 1, 2022 — whichever comes first.
PSEG Long Island, at LIPA’s direction, had been forestalling shutoffs in the interim as the State Legislature worked to pass the bill, first as part of the state budget, but then as separate legislation.
Gas, water and electric utilities, among others, must offer customers deferred payment plans to catch up on their bills rather than using the threat of a shutoff. They are barred from charging late fees or service charges.
"Utility companies provide essential services, and we need to make sure they continue to provide them in every situation — especially to those individuals who have suffered the most from COVID and are struggling to make ends meet," Cuomo said in a statement.
The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) and Assemb. Diana Richardson (D-Brooklyn), was hailed by consumer watchdog groups.
Parker in an interview said he has introduced a separate bill that would address the issue of arrears, relying on a 50-50 split between federal stimulus funds and utility forgiveness programs to help those who’ve racked up months of unpaid bills. The bill awaits Senate passage.
"Federal help is going to be absolutely critical to help people get back on their feet," he said.
Richard Berkley, executive director of the Public Utility Law Project, an Albany watchdog group, said the new moratorium will "protect New York’s low-, fixed- and newly low-income consumers from facing the impossible choices of prioritizing housing, food or healthcare to just keep the lights on, internet connected or taps flowing until the end of 2021."
PSEG in February said customers arrears had swelled to $187 million.