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With utility shutoffs on the rise, now is the time to bring back PIPP, say advocates



The Home Energy Rate Affordability Act (H7900 / S2336), sponsored by Rhode Island State Representative Scott Slater (Democrat, District 10, Providence) and State Senator Elizabeth Crowley (Democrat, District 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket), would create a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) that would allow low-income households to pay a fixed percentage of their income for utility bills. The percentage depends on the Federal Poverty Level of that household. The program would be eligible to households that are at or below 150 percent federal poverty level who are enrolled in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

According to the George Wiley Center, Rhode Island was one of the first states in the country to implement PIPP in the late 1980’s. It lasted successfully for several years before being phased out due to cuts in federal LIHEAP funding. Currently, over a dozen states such as Ohio, New Jersey, and Maine have successful PIPP programs. In Illinois, for example, a PIPP lowered 90 percent of elderly customers’ heating bills— more than any other utility assistance plan did.

“The current status quo for our state’s low-income households is unacceptable and too many people are being left alone in the cold and the dark,” said Slater. “The people who would use this program are already struggling to get by on a daily basis and this program will protect them from being victims of Rhode Island’s utility shut-off crisis.”

“This bill will help seniors, children, hard-working parents and the disabled whose only crime is that they cannot keep up with the ever-rising utility bills we have in this state,” said Senator Paul Jabour (Democrat, District 5, Providence), a cosponsor of the bill. “It is unconscionable that we would deny help to those who need assistance just to keep the lights on and the heat going. Passing this bill is the moral thing to do and I will continue to fight for its passage.”

Several people spoke in favor of the bills:

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“Now is the time to bring [PIPP] back, right?” asked Camilo Viveiros, coordinator at the George Wiley Center. “This has been a tried and tested policy that was here for six years and we were in the leadership, nationally, to bring a percentage income payment plan to assist the most vulnerable: people on fixed incomes, seniors, the disabled, low-income families, the unemployed…”

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.