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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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After a year-long emergency response moratorium on shutting off electricity other utility services to New Mexicans, the New Mexico Public Regulations committee voted last month to end the moratorium. In response, PNM announced that over 43,000 customers could be receiving a disconnect notice once the moratorium is lifted. The NMPRC voted to lift the moratorium on August 12, just as the state has begun to reopen. PNM is urging customers to take advantage of the resources and aid that the company is offering.

The utility moratorium on disconnects prevented customers from having their electricity disconnected due to non-payment. Customers were still responsible for the power they used during that time. PNM said this has resulted in nearly a year of unpaid PNM bills for some customers. As of May 7, approximately 43,413 residential customers, which is about 8 percent of 530,000 total PNM customers, are past-due on their PNM bill with an average past-due amount of $469 per customer.

Utilities across the country, including PNM, have loosened qualifications and expanded financial aid programs to help more customers than ever that have been affected by the pandemic,” said Maddie Martinez-Vega, PNM low-income programs manager. Martinez-Vega also noted that the company is aware of the financial burden that the pandemic has placed on many New Mexicans. “This is a time-sensitive situation that you need to apply immediately so we can help you from a worsening situation,” she said. 

“While a disconnection is not a position any customer ever wants to be in, there is a lot of money available through assistance programs to help you get caught back up again but avoid the rush and apply for help right away to keep your lights on,” Eric Morgan, PNM collections manager said. 

PNM said thousands of customers have taken advantage of the financial assistance that the company is offering so far, but they are worried about such a large number of customers without outstanding bills. PNM Good Neighbor Fund, the State of New Mexico Emergency Renters Assistance program, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), are some of the resources the utility company is urging anyone experiencing difficulty in paying their bills to use.

New Mexico Gas Company is also preparing for the August 12 lift on the utility shut-off moratorium. NMGC posted on their website that they have $1.2 million in financial assistance for residential and small business customers and are encouraging customers to sign up for Heat New Mexico—a program administered by the Salvation Army to help low-income families with payments towards their gas bill. For more information on help with your gas bill, head to their website.

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