A recent report from the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), “Protecting Seriously Ill Consumers from Utility Disconnections: What States Can Do to Save Lives Now,” offers guidance on how states can prevent utility shutoffs among seriously ill individuals. The report reviews serious illness protection statutes in all 50 states and finds that while most states have some kind of enforceable protection, many of the rules are overly restrictive and not widely known about. The report offers several key recommendations to strengthen state statutes. These include broadening eligibility criteria and expanding protection periods to last at least 30 days. State statutes should also require utility companies to notify customers regularly about these protections and conduct affirmative outreach to identify eligible households.
This report illustrates the importance of utility disconnection protections for those with serious illness, highlighting examples of seriously ill individuals who died as a result of their utilities being shut off. Electricity or natural gas shutoffs can put elderly and seriously ill individuals at risk when temperatures are extremely hot or cold. Further, many individuals rely on these utilities to refrigerate medicine, connect to oxygen, or use electric wheelchairs.
The report highlights where disconnection policies are seriously lacking, but it also points to positive examples that could be adopted more widely. Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, and North Carolina, for example, have no enforceable protections to prevent disconnections for seriously ill customers. Other states, however, have enforceable and comprehensive serious illness protections. Idaho, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, for example, have broad eligibility criteria, allowing more individuals to benefit from these protections. Connecticut has strong requirements to notify customers about these protections; all disconnection notices include information about the protections and utility companies send reminders annually.
Policymakers can use this report to identify best practices, including existing samples, to strengthen protections in their state.
The report is at: https://bit.ly/3aT58Sn