Last week Governor Murphy announced an Executive Order prohibiting water systems from shutting off the water service to residential customers for non-payment through March 15. The order covers accounts that primarily serve residential customers. The EO will also require reconnection of any service shut off for non-payment since March 16, 2020, except in the cases of public health and safety. The EO does not cover sewer utilities.
About half of AEA drinking water members, that provide water to about one million people in New Jersey, do not shut off the supply of drinking water to a home in the event of non-payment as a matter of policy.
As a matter of public health, our members that have shut off policies suspended this activity voluntarily at the outset of the pandemic. Our private/corporate purveyor drinking water colleagues also suspended shut offs voluntarily until Oct. 15.
There has been scant indication that anyone was continuing to do shutoffs, or leaving people without water, during the pandemic. Staff from DEP and BPU have indicated they have not received complaints of drinking water service shut offs for non-payment during the pandemic. Nor have cases like this come up at weekly cross-sector online pandemic-response meetings involving utilities and relevant State agencies.
AEA members are hometown utilities, accessible to customers. This gives them the ability to respond directly to individual financial hardships of customers by waiving interest charges on overdue bills and refraining from lien enforcement. While the Governor’s announcement said, “customers who are able to do so will be urged to continue to make payments,” some members have expressed worry that mandatory no-shutoffs give cover to people who are able to pay their bills but choose not to. The financial implications of no-shutoff policies become more severe as the pandemic and its economic impacts continue.
The Governor’s EO suggested that those in need of financial assistance reach out to their utility directly.