Group calls for D.C. bill to prevent heat shut-off in winter

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 24, 2010

A group of District residents urged the city council on Saturday to enact emergency legislation to prevent utility companies from shutting off the heat this winter for any D.C. customers who cannot pay their bills.

At a demonstration outside the Wilson Building, about 10 members of Justice First, an activist group, blasted Pepco for what they said were increasing numbers of shutdowns.

Crystal Kim, the organization's executive director, said she had no data to prove shutdowns were increasing but said she has received "a flood of calls" from residents requesting assistance with their bills.

"Shutoffs are never the answer," Kim said.

Under current law, utility companies can disconnect any customer's heat as long as the temperature stays above 32 degrees on the day of disconnection. That leaves residents at risk of having no heat when temperatures drop below freezing, Kim said.

Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), chair of the Public Services and Consumer Affairs Committee -- which held a hearing Saturday on utility service issues -- declined to comment on possible legislation.

Pepco President Thomas Graham said the utility views shutdowns as a last resort and could not say if they are on the rise. Graham criticized the proposed emergency legislation as "a short-term solution. The long-term impact is, customers would have much larger bills to pay. At some point, you are financially responsible for that bill."

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