WESTFIELD- The Municipal Light Board (MLB) voted unanimously to set up a Westfield Gas and Electric program to grant relief to ratepayers who have been struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chairman and Ward 6 Commissioner Robert Sacco proposed a program budget of $500,000 so that WG&E could work with the ratepayers on a one-to-one basis and forgive up to three months of bills. The actual details of how the program will work is being left up to WG&E, not the Light Board.
The program would be available to commercial and residential customers of WG&E’s gas, electricity, and Whip City Fiber.
“We just got the financial report that says we can afford it. Let’s do it,” said Sacco before the vote.
While Sacco proposed that three months of bills could be forgiven, he said that the program could be altered by WG&E to allow for further bill forgiveness should they decide they need to.
“If the department decides that they need more, that’s part of the policy that they can implement,” said Sacco.
Some commissioners expressed concern at first that this policy would result in customers taking on bad debt, meaning that the bills that they currently owe would be considered “noncollectable” as they wouldn’t be able to afford to repay it even in the future.
Sacco said that the policy would work by simply applying a credit to the accounts of those affected rather than pushing the bills down the road.
Ward 2 Commissioner Ray Rivera said that the company should be able to afford it as they made $2 million more this year than they had last year, which he theorized is because more people have been staying home and using their home energy during the pandemic.
Ward 5 Commissioner Thomas Flaherty said that last month there were between 1,600 and 1,700 customers whose accounts had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flaherty urged anyone who is having trouble paying their bills to contact WG&E to work with them to get some relief.