Senate approves bill to make Henry Shelton Act more effective
Changes aim to help struggling families earn utility debt forgiveness
STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller making it easier for struggling families to earn forgiveness for utility debt.
The legislation makes changes to the Henry Shelton Act, named after the longtime anti-poverty and social justice activist and founder of the George Wiley Center in Pawtucket, to allow people who enroll in the debt management plan to earn incremental forgiveness over the course of the year, instead of earning full forgiveness if they successfully complete a three-year plan.
Senator Miller, who was also the sponsor of the Henry Shelton Act when it became law in 2011, said the three-year arrangement is proving to be ineffective because those who are having trouble paying their monthly bills also struggle with paying down their debt on top of it, and if they cannot complete all three years of the program, they get no relief.
The legislation passed today (2015-S 0199A) is based on Massachusetts’ utility debt forgiveness program. It will make the program a one-year arrearage management plan in which a participant sees one-twelfth of his or her arrearage forgiven for every month of successful payment.
“The point of the Henry Shelton Act is to help people keep their utilities on and, with some considerable effort on their part, erase their debt. It doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing proposition, and it’s more effective when people can at least wipe out some of their debt for the time they succeed in the program than to have them make it partway and get nothing. These changes will make the program more effective and will better encourage those struggling with utility debt to participate, get out of debt, and keep their utilities on,” said Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence).
The legislation will now advance to the House of Representatives.
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903