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OWR Urges PSC to Extend Utility Cutoff Moratorium

Wisconsin’s policy of preventing utility companies from cutting off service to customers during the winter months was extended until July 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the virus still spreading and the number of infections and deaths on the rise, Our Wisconsin Revolution today asked the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to extend the moratorium on service cutoffs until next spring.

July 16, 2020

Public Service Commission
Rebecca Cameron Valcq, Chairperson
Ellen Nowak, Commissioner
Tyler Huebner, Commissioner
Hill Farms State Office Building
North Tower, 6th Floor
4822 Madison Yards Way
Madison, WI 53705

Dear Chairperson Valcq, Commissioner Nowak and Commissioner Huebner:

With the pandemic persisting and indeed worsening, we urge you to act immediately to extend the utility shutoff moratorium that is due to end July 25. We ask that the moratorium be extended until April 2021.

When the first moratorium extension was put in place, it may have been expected that coronavirus infections would have significantly declined by now or that COVID-19 would no longer be a serious public health threat in the summer months. The reality now is that the virus continues to spread, the number of infections is rising not falling, and with the economy still significantly impacted by the pandemic there continues to be a large number of economically vulnerable people who remain at great risk. Allowing the moratorium to end on July 25 and permitting utilities to cut off customers will create added health risks, and racial minorities and economically distressed communities will be disproportionately harmed.

While the state’s Safer at Home order produced some positive initial results in minimizing spread of the virus, COVID has rebounded and continues to be a major threat to both public health and Wisconsin’s economy. Large numbers of people in Wisconsin have seen their economic status damaged, putting them in the agonizing position of having to choose between paying for food, housing, health care or utilities. Disconnecting utilities at any time is a hardship, doing so during a pandemic is downright cruel and dangerous.

We understand that utility moratoriums are normally only put in place during the winter. There is nothing normal about we are going through as a state and nation. The pandemic is not letting up, and power is not only needed for heating but also for cooling. The combination of summer heat waves and COVID puts vulnerable populations at considerable risk and could prove deadly. COVID has laid bare to an even greater extent than before the racial, social and economic disparities and injustices that exist in our society. There is absolutely no doubt that the cruel, dangerous and potentially deadly result of allowing power to be cut off starting on July 25 will fall hardest on the poorest in our society and will have an especially harsh impact on black and brown people.

Power is needed for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer, but also for cooking, refrigeration, internet connections and phone service. Without these and with the pandemic still raging, people will be at risk and in harm’s way. The utility shutoff moratorium lasting until July 25 was based on the assumption that the COVID crisis would run its course by this time. It clearly has not. We ask you to use your authority to extend the moratorium until the pandemic is under control and loss of utility service does not pose such a grave threat to so many people.

Sincerely,

Mike McCabe
Executive Director
Our Wisconsin Revolution