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Maine utilities regulators ease rules around low-income electricity assistance

An electricity meter on a house in Cambridge.
Robin Lubbock/WBUR
An electricity meter on a house in Cambridge.

Utilities regulators say low-income Maine residents can get more help paying back long-overdue electric bills under changes to a state program approved on Tuesday.

The state's Arrearage Management Program helps low-income electric customers by forgiving past electric debts, if they keep paying their current electric bills each month.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved changes Tuesday easing a restriction that only allowed recipients to use the program once in their lifetime, and now allow residents to participate once every seven years.

Benefits have also increased. Electric customers are allowed to miss two monthly payments, and a participant is only disqualified if they don't make that payment up, or if they miss a third payment.

"These amendments will allow the AMP program to provide more opportunities, for more ratepayers, to reduce significant arrearages on their bills, and to get a fresh start," PUC Commissioner Patrick Scully said at a meeting on Tuesday. "And I'm pleased we're enhancing this program so meaningfully."

Earlier this year, regulators also expandedeligibility for another program that assists low-income Mainers with paying their current electric bills, after the state put more funding toward it.

Maine Public Advocate Bill Harwood says that the changes to both programs show that the state is making progress in assisting low-income Mainers with electric bills. But he said prices are still too high for many Maine residents.

"There are, in round numbers, about 100,000 households in Maine, that are struggling to pay their electric bills based on what we believe is the case," Harwood said. "And that number is huge. And we need to do a better job of getting at that."

Last week, the state's Electricity Ratepayer Advisory Council called for the state to put more money towards assistance programs for low-income residents.