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Coalition renews call for utility moratorium as disconnects begin in Florida

'This is a major brewing crisis,' nonprofit member says
Posted at 5:40 PM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 17:40:35-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A coalition of Florida nonprofits is renewing pleas for a statewide moratorium on utility disconnects. It comes as providers resume normal operations leaving thousands in the dark.

The Connected in Crisis coalition has sent letters to incoming state House and Senate budget leaders. They're pushing for the moratorium, as well as debt relief and fee waivers.

"This is a major brewing crisis that is going to affect vast swaths of people in every district of the state of Florida," said Zac Cosner with Florida Conservation Voters, a member of the group. "Legislators can choose to help or ignore this problem."

Zac Cosner, Florida Conservation Voters
Zac Cosner with Florida Conservation Voters calls the issue of utilities being disconnected a "brewing crisis."

State data shows providers cut off more than 100,000 Florida homes and 7,000 businesses as of Nov. 1. Many coming from Duke and Florida Power and Light.

Most of those disconnected customers were eventually reconnected, the data shows, with only about 16,000 homes and 2,000 businesses remaining without utilities.

The coalition said numbers for November have yet to be processed.

Marta Orbe, a central Florida resident, has already been disconnected once and worries another is coming.

Marta Orbe
Marta Orbe of Orlando has already had her utilities disconnected once and fears it will happen again.

"I don't remember the last time I slept very well," said the Orlando woman. "You go to sleep, and you want to imagine that this isn't happening to you, but it's real."

With the pandemic still ongoing, the part-time employee said she can't find enough work to make ends meet.

"We can't control it," she said. "It's something in the world right now. It's happening, and nobody can do anything."

Florida's utility commissioners rejected a disconnect moratorium in October. They agreed with analysts that danger didn't rise to the level state law requires. The governor could also issue a moratorium through executive order but has yet to do so.

According to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, 11 states have some kind of utility shutoff moratorium in place. Earlier this year, that number was as high as 36 states. Many hit expiration dates and weren't renewed.