Utility companies say payment plans still available, as bills pile up during COVID-19 crisis

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Although utility companies are not shutting off service during the pandemic emergency to those customers who can't pay right now, the money owed is not being forgiven and financially strapped homeowners are getting deeper into debt. Utility companies want to remind the public there are payment assistance plans available.

With winter approaching, the demand for lighting and heat is expected to increase.

"I am increasingly concerned about low-income customers with those accruing balances," said John Coleman, a commissioner with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

"I think it is important to note here that it is not forgiving people who have not paid utility bills. This is accruing and some estimates are now suggesting this is now in excess of $1 billion," he said.

PECO has a new option to add to its payment assistance programs and grants.

"Which can spread outstanding balances up to 24 months, with no money down and no interest charged," said PECO spokesperson Alexandra Coppadge. "Residential customers can simply enroll online."

She said many customers initially ineligible for financial assistance may be able to participate in the expanded programs.

"That is why we are encouraging all customers to reach out to us to see if they qualify for help to pay their energy bills," said Coppadge.

Philadelphia Gas Works has payment options as well, and the Philadelphia Water Department is also working with customers to pay their balances.

"Understanding the financial stress that a lot of people are under, we are being more flexible in our terms and we did stop putting penalties on accounts," said RaVonne Muhammed, who spearheads the Water Revenue Bureau's assistance programs.

Although the Philadelphia Water Department isn't under the PUC's jurisdiction, like PECO and PGW, it is also not issuing service termination notices during the COVID-19 emergency.