Advocates call for extension on utility cutoffs, eviction bans

WASHINGTON — Temporary bans on utility cutoffs and evictions in Washington expire next week.

Advocacy groups said with so many people struggling, Gov. Jay Inslee needs to extend them.

The governor’s office stated he is considering extensions, possibly with adjustments.

"I was five months late on my mortgage before all of this started in March," said Andrea Scott-Murray, whose finances have only worsened in the COVID-19 crisis.

Paying for the internet, water and electricity are among her worries.

"If I'm paying my utility bills, I'm not able to pay my mortgage. It's been one of the drivers of me being late on my mortgage, honestly," Scott-Murray said.

The state moratorium on utilities shutting off customers expires June 4.

Thursday, several advocacy groups called on Inslee to extend it at least through the end of the year.

"While bill assistance programs already exist in most communities,, many families in need slip through the cracks," said Ruth Sawyer of the Sierra Club.

The governor's shut-off moratorium is not a bill relief program; balances still add up.

State regulators say customers should call their utilities to see if they qualify for help.

State officials are distributing more than $14 million in federal energy assistance.

Puget Sound Energy has $11 million in a special assistance fund.

"We have approved more than 6,000 applicants and distributed more than $3.5 million dollars toward customer bills," said PSE spokesperson Janet Kim, adding that PSE still has more than $7 million left to distribute.

Liz Anderson of the Washington Public Utility Districts Association said nonprofit PUD began working with customers before the cutoff moratorium on payment plans, refunding deposits and delaying scheduled rate increases.

Anderson also warned that "extension of the moratorium can result in larger arrearages putting customers in an increasingly more difficult financial position over time as those balances accumulate."

In Seattle, the city has suspended all utility cutoffs until further notice.

Since March 10, city officials said about 4,100 residential customers and about 440 commercial customers had set up payment plans with Seattle City Light.

Another Inslee moratorium, on evictions, expires June 1.

"There are a lot of people we expect will not be able to pay rent come June 1," said Rachael Myers of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, which is asking the governor to extend the eviction moratorium for another 90 days.

"Without a moratorium, we're going to see significant increases in homelessness and a big cliff of evictions if we don't extend this and provide rent relief," Myers said.

Myers said rent relief needs to come from the federal government so that both tenants and landlords are covered.

She said Washington state could need $3 billion in rent relief between now and the end of June 2021.

When asked about extending the moratoriums on evictions and utility cutoffs, an Inslee spokeswoman wrote to KIRO 7 that “the governor is considering extending both proclamations, although adjustments to both might be made.”

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