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Coronavirus: Public service adjustments, unemployment update

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Fri, Mar 13th 2020 06:40 pm

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday announced he issued an executive order to help relieve the economic impact of COVID-19 on workers and assure school aid for schools that have been directed to close. As part of the governor's executive order, the state will waive the seven-day waiting period for workers to claim unemployment insurance for those that have been put out of work by COVID-19.

The executive order will also eliminate the aid penalty for schools directed to close by state or local officials or those closed under a state or local declaration of emergency that do not meet 180-day requirements if they are unable to make up school days.

The governor also directed the New York State Department of Public Service to suspend public utilities from cutting off service – including power and heat – to customers affected by COVID-19. The state's major utilities will take immediate action to suspend service shutoffs to households during the COVID-19 outbreak and will continue to offer deferred payment plans for customers struggling financially due to the outbreak.

New York State Department of Public Service

In response to Cuomo’s directive, the New York State Department of Public Service announced today it would immediately work with utilities across the state to ensure any customers affected by COVID-19 restrictions they will not lose power or heat due to financial hardship. The state’s major electric, gas, and water utilities will take immediate action to suspend service shutoffs to households during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Ensuring affordable, safe, secure and reliable access to electric, gas and water services for New York state’s residential and business consumers is at the heart of everything we do,” said PSC CEO John B. Rhodes. “By suspending utility disconnects we are ensuring that those affected by the virus will not have to worry about keeping critical utility services available.”

The State’s major electric and gas utilities – Con Edison, National Grid, Central Hudson, Orange and Rockland, New York State Electric and Gas, Rochester Electric and Gas, PSEG Long Island and National Fuel Gas – and major private water companies have all committed to suspend shut-offs for customers, and assist customers impacted by COVID-19 who may be experiencing financial hardship that makes it difficult for them to pay their utility bills during the outbreak.

Historically, the PSC has asked the utilities for more lenient repayment options during times of hardship. For example, every year during the coldest parts of the winter, the major electric and gas utilities suspend service terminations for non-payment. Similar action was taken during Superstorm Sandy, the 2014 polar vortex, and the 2008 financial crisis.

AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel said, “Ensuring that New Yorkers facing hardship during the coronavirus outbreak will continue receiving the energy they rely on is sensible, compassionate, and necessary. AARP New York commends the leadership of Gov. Cuomo and the Department of Public Service to ensure uninterrupted power to those already facing great challenges during these difficult times.”

Richard Berkley, executive director of the Public Utility Law Project of New York, said, "Today the governor continues to lead in protecting New Yorkers against unprecedented threats and the potential harms that could arise without protections against water, heat and electric shutoffs. Utility customers deserve the assurance that they will have access to essential utility services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and PULP commends the governor, the Department of Public Service, and utilities for today’s action to do just that."

National Grid

National Grid has temporarily suspended collections-related activities, including service disconnections, to lessen any financial hardship the COVID-19 pandemic may have on its customers. The decision is part of the company’s pandemic preparedness plan, which is designed to mitigate the impact the virus has on customers, its workforce and the company’s ability to deliver safe, reliable electricity and natural gas to its customers.

“We recognize that this pandemic has brought many challenges for our customers and we want to do our part to lessen any financial impact they may face as the result of the outbreak,” said Badar Khan, National Grid’s interim U.S. president. “We are committed to our customers’ well-being during this difficult time.”

The company’s decision to temporarily suspend service terminations and collections-related activities is effective immediately.

The company also has implemented the following employee-related actions, which will remain in place as it continues to closely monitor the pandemic:

•Limiting external meeting attendance and external visitors at National Grid facilities to operationally critical activities that are required to deliver gas and electricity to customers.

•Restricting travel between National Grid office locations, except for operationally critical activities.

•Stopping all international business-related travel.

•Elevating the level of cleaning and disinfecting at all company facilities.

“Ensuring the health and safety of our employees and customers is our No. 1 priority,” Khan said. “We have a comprehensive emergency response plan in place to keep the lights on and the gas flowing for our customers. Our pandemic team is meeting daily and we’re closely monitoring all developments associated with this evolving and complex virus.”

Khan noted the company also is sharing its preparedness plans with regulators, federal, state and local officials, emergency response organizations, customers and other key stakeholders.

“We will continue to closely monitor this situation, review and adjust our policies and ways of working as necessary, and will keep the lines of communications open with our employees, customers and all stakeholders,” he said.

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