Ephrata protest utilities

Protesters listen to a speaker outside Ephrata Borough hall on Sept. 8, 2020. Organized by Northern End Stands Up, a branch of Lancaster-based social activism group Lancaster Stands Up, the protest was to ask borough council to reinstate a moratorium on shutting off water and electricity.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to indicate that the moratorium on terminating utilities services for past due customers was implemented by Ephrata Borough, not the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Ephrata Borough will resume disconnecting water and power for past due consumers next week, though borough officials say they’re taking steps to ease the process for people who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applicants who have enrolled in the Lancaster County Housing & Redevelopment Authorities’ emergency rent and utilities assistance program can apply for a stay to prevent services from being shut off until a decision has been made as to their assistance eligibility, said Robert Thompson, borough manager. No penalties will accrue on applicants’ accounts while their eligibility is being determined.

“We tried to find ground in the middle where we’re not penalizing the customers that have paid, and we’re not providing additional incentives that are not eligible for those who did pay for customers that didn’t pay,” Thompson said at Monday night’s meeting of the borough Budget and Finance Committee. “It seemed reasonable that providing them a disconnection stay doesn’t really harm anyone considering we’re waiting for a determination on eligibility or funding.”

Borough rules state that residents who are 90 days late in payment can have their electricity and water shut off. A borough-imposed moratorium on the practice is set to expire March 31.

As of last Friday, 183 accounts meet the criteria for disconnection on April 1, Thompson said, owing a combined $172,601 in fees and $22,000 in penalties. Of those accounts, 114 are tenants owing $103,346 and 69 are owners owing $69,255.

“The main thing is getting the information (about the assistance program) to at-risk families right now and helping them figure out the process of applying,” said Suzy Wurtz, a member of Lancaster Stands Up and Northern End Stands Up, Lancaster-based social activism groups that hosted several rallies last year to keep power on for residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To that end, Thompson said the borough will work to make utilities customers aware of the assistance program, which Wurtz said has a combined $35 million from the state and federal governments that it can distribute.

“The issue is not funding,” said Wurtz, “They will have plenty of funding. The issue is giving folks time to have their applications processed.”

The Lancaster County Housing & Redevelopment Authorities’ emergency rental and utilities assistance program can be applied for online at lchra.com/rent.

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