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Low-Income Residents Overdue On Payments May Face Utility Shutoffs Starting Today

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Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA
The state's utility commission enacted a moratorium on utility shutoffs for low-income residents a year ago due to the pandemic. The commission has since voted to lift the moratorium, putting thousands of residents at risk of losing service.

On today's program: The state’s utility regulator authorized shutoffs to low-income residents with overdue payment starting today, meaning 890,000 accounts are at risk of losing services; Duquesne University’s provost explains precautions as the school gears up for in-person classes in the fall; and a look at rising coronavirus cases, despite increasing vaccinations.

Utility shutoffs could resume for low-income customers
(0:00 — 4:47) 

A year ago, the state’s Public Utility Commission enacted a moratorium that would keep utilities running for low-income customers. 

Starting today, utility companies are allowed to shut off various services to those with overdue payments. 

“This order applies to utilities that are regulated by the PUC. Locally that’s utilities like Duquesne Light, People’s Gas,” says WESA reporter Kate Giammarise. “It does not apply to utilities operated by municipal authorities.” 

March 31 is traditionally the end of the annual winter ban on shutoffs of low-income customers. Gov. Tom Wolf asked the PUC to extend the moratorium beyond this date until more federal assistance for rent and energy bills is available.

“Reading the statement from the PUC, they pointed to the increased rate of vaccinations, to the gradual improvement of the economy and the millions of dollars in available assistance” as reasons to end the moratorium, Giammarise explains. 

“Collectively [customers] owe about $856 million in back bills,” says Giammarise. “What the PUC has said is there are 890,000 accounts that are at risk of termination.”

Though the moratorium is ending, there are some protections for consumers in place. 

“If you are facing a termination, your first call should be to your utility company because they can connect you with the payment plans and the assistance they have.” 

Giammarise says there is also support available from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), as well as federal assistance and local nonprofits like the Dollar Energy Fund.  

Duquesne’s provost on what it takes to bring students back on campus
(4:50  — 13:03) 

Pittsburgh area universities and colleges have been making plans to return to traditional in-person, on-campus classes for the fall term. So far, those with plans to bring students back are Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University, Carlow University, and Robert Morris University.

David Dausey, the executive vice president and provost of Duquesne University, says bringing back students could mean lots of vaccinations. 

“We’re still discussing options. One of those options is certainly to potentially mandate the vaccine for students returning, and if that is the case then we would not be testing students upon return, we would just be looking to see that they had the covid vaccination submitted through our health services like they submit all other vaccine records before they come back to campus,” says Dausey.

Dausey says the university regularly tests students who are physically on campus. Thus far, he says, they conducted 18,000 COVID-19 tests so far this semester. 

Whether staff will be required to get vaccinated is another consideration. 

“It is likely that a decision about students would be made before a decision about employees is made,” says Dausey.

Pandemic fatigue, plus coronavirus variants, may be contributing to a rise in cases
(13:05 — 18:00) 

The state Department of Health said Wednesday all Pennsylvanians will be eligible to schedule vaccination appointments beginning April 19.

This announcement comes as the state is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks following three months of decline.

WITF’s Brett Sholtis reports new variants and pandemic fatigue might be playing a role.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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