Updated Aug. 12 at 2:15 p.m.
On Wednesday, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission ordered state-regulated utilities to offer payment plans of at least six months for their customers. Late fees, disconnection fees and reconnection fees have also been suspended until Oct. 12.
Last week, Gov. Eric Holcomb said the state has no plans to further extend a ban on utility shutoffs during the COVID-19 crisis. But more than 11 percent of Hoosiers are still unemployed and cases are going up.
Consumer advocates hope the state will give people more time to pay off their overdue bills. The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor wants all state-regulated utilities to offer payment plans of at least 12 months to their customers.
Spokesperson Anthony Swinger said, as of June, many people with bills more than 60 days past due hadn't signed up for payment plans.
“If you have a large arrearage and you get offered a three-month agreement, or a six-month agreement, you very well may look at that and say, ‘Well, that's not realistic. I'm not going to be able to make that. So never mind," he said.
The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO worries a 12-month payment plan for all customers would encourage some customers who usually pay on time to put off paying their bills.
Nick Meyer, NIPSCO vice president of communications, said the company has already extended payment plans for its residential customers from three months to six months. Those receiving federal energy assistance can sign up for 12-month plans.
“We do work with customers on an individual basis and our goal is to keep customers connected because it doesn't do us any good, it's not any benefit to us if customers are turned off," Meyer said.
Meyer said utilities should be able to choose what payment plans best fit its customers’ needs.
The Citizens Action Coalition, Indiana Community Action Association, and the Sierra Club support the OUCC’s recommendation, but also said the moratorium on utility shutoffs should be extended again.
If the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission decides to order utilities to extend their payment plans to at least 12 months, that order would only apply to state regulated utilities. There are several small, rural utilities that are not within the IURC's jurisdiction.
This story has been updated.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.