Unpaid Utility Bills, A New Normal?
- Apr 30, 2021 4:32 am GMT
While many are eager to ‘get back to normal,’ the long road to business-as-usual may not be possible. Resuming power shutoffs will bring a sense of normalcy albeit unwelcome. In Tallahassee, Florida, the city’s disconnection grace period has ended. Residents have been urged to set up payment plans to prevent loss of service and reconnection fees. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission tentatively approved regulated utility transition plans allowing utilities to return to their pre-pandemic customer service practices. The suspension of disconnections will end May 31 for all customers and the utility will follow ‘normal’ procedure regarding unpaid bills and disconnection for failure to pay. However, the same assistance programs available before COVID are still there for customers in need. Utilities and government assistance offer payment plans, financial assistance and funds from non-profit organizations. For example, to those who qualify, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) can help with payments and energy efficiency improvements. USA.gov encourages residents to apply for local services but not to forget to contact their utility about budget billing and new payment options. Due to the economic hardship created by the pandemic, even more options are becoming available.
Benefiting utilities and their customers, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced more than $21 million to cover unpaid and overdue utility bills for thousands of Wisconsin residents. The payments were made directly on behalf of those eligible. “Providing this funding through an already-successful program ensures that the funds can be distributed quickly and efficiently without creating additional burdens to the utility customer,” said DOA Secretary Joel Brennan. The pandemic coupled with an extremely cold winter has damaged the economy, increased energy costs and impacted the way utilities do business.
Two bills, signed by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, will relieve debt for customers and ensure utilities are paid. Senate Bill 1049 and Senate Bill 1050 will establish bond-financed, pooled loan programs for unregulated and regulated utilities currently holding about $4.5 billion in debt. Without these measures, Oklahomans would have seen utility bills skyrocket but the bills allow the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority to use up to $100 million in bonds to cover outstanding debt. "These companies will still receive the full amount that is due to them, but all Oklahomans should breathe a sigh of relief that they won’t have a huge surprise bill coming," said Rep. Garry Mize (R-Guthrie).
A new normal is more realistic but how will your utility transition to a new norm? Many are updating their online services to reflect a more user-friendly destination. These efforts can better direct customers to the answers they’ll need while we all try to reclaim, reinvent or return to normal.
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