Moratorium on shutting down public services ends, putting hundreds of thousands at risk


Governor Jay Inslee’s moratorium on utility shutdowns ended Thursday, September 30, putting half a million Washington residents at risk of losing their utilities, according to Washington state Commerce Department.

The end of this moratorium comes as fall temperatures drop, making utilities like heat and electricity increasingly necessary.

Fortunately, most utility providers will work with their customers to create payment plans, according to the Commerce Department. Private utility companies are regulated by the state and are required to offer payment plans.

Help in the form of rental and utility payment assistance is also available for people behind on their bills, according to the Commerce Ministry. Some households can apply for subsidies through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program on the Ministry of Commerce website.

One of the state’s largest electricity providers, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), offers several assistance programs for customers who are struggling to pay their bills, according to a press release from PSE. For example, PSE’s COVID Bill Assistance Program offers eligible customers a credit of $ 2,500 for overdue bills on their account, according to their website.

Coinciding with the end of the moratorium, PSE increased customer rates on Friday October 1, according to the Public Services and Transportation Commission. Residential customers using 900 kWh per month will see their monthly bill increase by $ 1.81. On average, natural gas customers will see their monthly bill increase by $ 0.52, depending on the commission.

Despite the end of the moratorium on utility shutdowns, Inslee issued a proclamation on September 24 extending the bridge of the moratorium on evictions until October 31. The extension gives local municipalities more time to distribute rent relief, according to the governor. website.

Bridge prevents landlords from evicting tenants due to rent owed for months during the pandemic, unless the tenant has refused to participate in both a rent assistance program and a program resolution of evictions. The bridge also prevents landlords from charging late fees for rent owed during the pandemic, according to the resolution.

Landlords are prohibited from serving or threatening to serve and notify to vacate their tenants if the landlord has not attempted to make a “reasonable repayment plan” with said tenant, according to the proclamation.

According to the proclamation, tenants must always pay their current and future rents or actively seek rent assistance.

All of these protections will be lifted after October 31, unless the governor issues another extension.

A report released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in August found that as local moratoria on evictions are lifted, 30 to 40 million Americans could face eviction. Between 650,000 to 789,000 people in Washington state alone face deportation once the moratorium is lifted, the report said.

“The United States could face the most serious housing crisis in its history,” the report said.

Blacks and Latinxes are at a disproportionate risk of deportation, the study found that 80% of those facing deportation are Black and Latinx. Blacks and Latinxes are more likely to be renters than their white counterparts.

The median gross rent in King County is around $ 1,600 per month, according to the US Census. In 2019, the median hourly income in King County was around $ 25 per hour, however, it is not known how the COVID-19 pandemic affected income in King County.

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