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Eight months into the pandemic, delinquent utility bills have piled up—what's next?

image credit: Courtesy Dreamstime

I read this week that Cleveland Public Utility will begin returning to some sort of normalcy in December and start disconnecting non-paying customers from water and electricity services. Clearly, this had to happen at some point, although, I'm not sure in the midst of a pandemic is a great idea. That's not the point, however. The major question is how utilities will manage delinquent bills that, for some customers, have continued to pile up while federal coronavirus and unemployment aid has dried up. 

Some may feel that we've seen the worst of the pandemic. That remains to be seen, especially as we start to see evidence of the long-predicted second surge. While the pandemic is certainly not over, news of vaccine progression at least gives us the notion that, eventually, this will be over. Which mean, eventually, bills will become due that maybe weren't immediate during the pandemic and many will be unable to pay because of economic hardship they experienced through the fault of a public health crisis. 

Landlords and utilities will be under the microscope in the aftermath of all this, as they will determine the fates of many of these tenants and customers. Landlords and utilities have to pay their own bills too and it's not certain that either could afford to offer a massive and altruistic subsidy. Yet, inflexibility on the part of landlords and utility companies alike puts people in danger of losing basic services crucial to surviving in this country. Utilities cannot wait to figure out their plan. They need to begin drafting their strategy now and ensure transparency with their customers around how they will handle delinquent bills. Without help from state and federal governments, it will be up to the utilities. How will they fare and are they prepared?

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Nevelyn Black on Nov 14, 2020

Great read.  I have been following this topic as well and I’m sure many are asking similar questions.  A recent CNN article stated, an estimated 205 million Americans are at risk of utility disconnection.  In May, Congress infused the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) with $900 million as part of the CARES Act.  Will this get the majority through the winter?  Or have these funds already dried up?  Most utilities are encouraging customers to set up payment plans but from what I’ve read, customers are unaware they can apply for assistance and that certain protections exist.  Philadelphia Community Legal Services attorney Rob Ballenger said it’s unclear how the utility companies will communicate with customers who are at risk for termination.

Christopher Neely's picture

Thank Christopher for the Post!

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