In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states have mandated that utilities maintain service regardless of customers’ ability to pay. [1] The Illinois Commerce Commission (“ICC,” the quasi-judicial agency that regulates Illinois’s utilities), for example, issued an order requiring various customer protections, including a moratorium on utility shutoffs due to nonpayment, more generous deferred payment arrangements, and more favorable credit reporting for missed payments. [2]

Despite there being no end in sight to the pandemic and consequent high levels of unemployment, many of these protections will soon expire in Illinois and elsewhere. Per the ICC order, large utilities in Illinois (such as ComEd and Nicor) are now permitted to begin issuing shutoff notices to residential customers for nonpayment. [3] Many utilities will continue to offer assistance for customers, but the provisions are not as generous as a complete moratorium on shutoffs. [4] If customers could not previously pay their bills due to COVID-related hardship they are unlikely to now be in a position to pay, especially with mounting debt due to several months of nonpayment.

Nationally, a new report by Carbon Switch found that after October 1, over 76 million households are subject to utility shutoffs, with many of these households already in poverty or still unemployed. [5] And as with other environmental and energy issues, the burden will also fall disproportionately on minority and low-income families. Reports have found that Black families, for example, already paid more for energy than white families before COVID-19, [6] making it even more unlikely that bills can be paid and the power left on.

[1] Map of Disconnection Moratoria, Nat’l Ass’n of Regulatory Util. Comm’rs, (last visited Aug. 27, 2020).

[2] Final Order, In the Matter of Moratorium on Disconnection of Utility Services during the Public Health Emergency Declared on March 9, 2020 pursuant to Sections 4 and 7 of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act, (No. 20-0309),

[3] Id. at 3 (calculated with Illinois’s phase 4 attainment date of June 26, 2020).

[4] See, e.g., Bill Payment Assistance, ComEd, (last visited Aug. 27, 2020).

[5] Michael Thomas, Millions of Americans Could Lose Their Electricity as Shutoff Moratoriums Expire (2020),

[6] See, e.g., Eva Lyubich, The Race Gap in Residential Energy Expenditures (June 2020),