(Kimberly James) – Access to basic utilities – including electricity, gas and water – may be essential during a global health crisis, but some say blanket moratoriums on service shutoffs could cause more harm than good.
“A moratorium on utility shutoffs will, inevitably, disrupt utility prices moving forward, to the detriment of all users, including the most at-risk Nevadans,” Michael Schaus, communications director at Nevada Policy Research Institute, told The Center Square.
A Senate report and a report by the Center for Biological Diversity reveal minimal protections in Nevada with no legally binding moratorium orders.
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper declared access to electricity, gas and clean water a public health imperative according to The Nevada Independent, saying these services should not be unaffordable luxuries during a global pandemic.
In March, Gov. Steve Sisolak said state utility companies had committed to maintaining services despite residents’ ability to pay, but fell short of making a state order. Any effort by utility companies to cease shutoffs was voluntary according to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada. Some utility providers in the state did offer continuous service but many of those protections have expired.
Many companies that have ended shutoff moratoriums have switched to payment assistance-focused policies, allowing residents to keep their service if they notify the utility company of their struggle to pay.
Nevada’s unemployment rate still hovers around 15 percent, the fourth-highest in the county. This puts some of the state’s most vulnerable residents at risk of losing utility service at a time when it is needed most.
Schaus told The Center Square that many vulnerable Nevadans continue to struggle with basic things like utility bills because of the state’s trouble in issuing unemployment payments.
“it’s important to remember that this is the symptom of much larger problems – such as the state’s continued delays issuing unemployment payouts and the governor’s continued lockdown on certain sectors of the economy,” Schaus said. “Allowing Nevadans the freedom to safely return to work should be the primary focus of lawmakers rather than short-term Band-aids that will further weigh down Nevada’s economic health moving forward.”