ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Tens of thousands of people in New Mexico who are behind on their gas and electric bills could lose power as soon as mid-August after a pandemic moratorium on utility shutoffs ended.
More than 47,000 residential customers of Public Service Co. of New Mexico have outstanding balances of about $448 on average for electricity, the company said. About 34,000 residential customers of New Mexico Gas Co. owe an average of $230, spokesman Tim Korte told the Albuquerque Journal.
The utilities are the largest providers of electric and gas services in New Mexico with more than 500,000 customers each.
The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission prevented utilities from disconnecting service over unpaid bills during much of the pandemic. The moratorium ended in May but had a 90-day transition period.
The soonest investor-owned and large gas companies could shut off service and resume normal billing practices is Aug. 12. Utilities say disconnecting people’s power and gas is a last resort that wouldn’t be taken until customers receive multiple past-due notices.
The utilities and the state have financial assistance for people who need help paying their bills.
“We can help the customers, we just need to have the conversation,” Korte said.
Maria Griego, the economic equity director for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said families should take advantage of the programs.
“Kids are just going to be starting back in school in the next couple of weeks, and so it can be pretty disruptive to families when they deal with an electricity outage,” she said.
Other protections designed to help vulnerable New Mexicans weather the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been expiring as business restrictions eased.
A nationwide ban on evictions put in place last September by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended Saturday. New Mexico renters are still protected from eviction under an order issued by the New Mexico Supreme Court.