Public power utilities across the country are helping federal workers affected by the ongoing federal government shutdown by deferring bill payments, waiving late fees, and extending other concessions. Utilities are also reminding affected customers of existing money-saving and general assistance programs.
The partial government shutdown began on Dec 22 and impacts approximately 800,000 federal workers across the country. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has scheduled votes on two bills for Jan 24 aimed at ending the shutdown, although press reports indicate that neither piece of legislation is likely to muster the 60 votes needed to move forward.
Here is a roundup of what some public power utilities have been doing to help federal workers who may be struggling to make ends meet:
At Athens Utilities in Tennessee, the public power utility has a board-approved policy in place regarding “Exceptions to Policy,” said Wayne Scarbrough, assistant general manager at Athens Utilities.
He noted that this allows certain managers to consider any exceptional situation where, in order to help a customer, a manager can write up an exception to policy that details things such as the customer’s needs or requests and a mutually agreed upon path to getting back to normal.
The manager signs it, the customer signs it and gets a copy, and it is tracked in the utility’s system to ensure compliance or otherwise to close it out, Scarbrough said.
This is the path the utility will take for verified federal workers affected by the shutdown to the point where they need assistance to keep their utility services on.
He said that as with all scenarios where a customer is saying they need more time, “we will first work with them on our policy pay agreement schedule,” which any customer service representative can execute.
The utility is using the Exception to Policy route to take care of any utility related requests for furloughed workers, “and being near the Oak Ridge complex, we have them.”
In Texas, Austin Energy on Jan 18 said that the city is ready to help customers affected by the shutdown. Austin Energy manages the City of Austin utility billing for water, electric, and other services.
If a utility customer says they are directly affected by the government shutdown, the city can postpone collection activity for 30 days or evaluate if the customer is eligible for assistance through some of its customer assistance programs or payment arrangements. If an affected customer was disconnected due to recent nonpayment, service will be restored. If the government shutdown lasts more than 30 days, the city will re-evaluate each affected customer's account.
"As a community owned utility, we are here to support our customers affected by the government shutdown and who may be experiencing difficulties paying their bills," said Kerry Overton, Deputy General Manager and Chief Customer and Compliance Officer at Austin Energy. "We have a process in place that hopefully will make getting help with their City of Austin Utility bills easy during this difficult time.”
The city is urging customers experiencing financial hardships to check out available programs or contact the Customer Care Contact Center to work through mutual solutions to ensure continuous utility service.
Columbus Department of Public Utilities
Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Andrew Ginther and the Columbus City Council recently announced plans to assist furloughed federal workers with utility bills.
The Department of Public Utilities will waive penalties to any furloughed federal employees who reside in the city of Columbus and are unable to pay their city utility bills. Eligible federal employees will make minimal monthly payments until the shutdown is over.
In late December, CPS Energy, another Texas-based public power utility, said that it is ready to help customers who are federal employees affected by the government shutdown.
The utility has a variety of money-saving and general assistance programs designed to help all customers who have informed the utility of a hardship.
“We are always ready to help our customers in need,” said Felecia Etheridge, CPS Energy’s Chief Customer Engagement Officer. “We understand this shutdown is beyond their control and this may put a strain on their finances. Our People First philosophy is about being there for our customers when they need us, where they need us, and this situation is no different. We will be ready to discuss any of our customers’ concerns, and work with them on a program that may help them during this time.”
CPS Energy recently tweeted a reminder that it is prepared to offer assistance to federal workers affected by the shutdown.
Farmington Electric Utility System
New Mexico public power utility Farmington Electric Utility System has offered a 30-day extension with no penalties, fees, or disconnects for non-payments, noted Nicki Parks, Customer Care Manager.
The 30-day extension is subject to as many subsequent 30-day extensions as needed until the shutdown is over. “We ask that the customer bring in their furlough letter, or show government ID to be eligible. We make a copy of their proof and have a file located in the supervisor's office,” Parks said. The account is noted and time stamped so that all that is needed for a second extension is a phone call from the customer.
Groton Utilities and Bozrah Light and Power
Connecticut’s Groton Utilities and Bozrah Light and Power “supports federal workers as they contend with the current challenges presented to them due to the partial federal government shutdown. It’s times like these when Americans need to pull together and support each other,” according to a post on its Facebook page.
Groton Utilities will not charge late payment fees for any outstanding balance for federal employees furloughed or working without compensation during the shutdown. Customers will need to verify that they are federal employees and furloughed or working without pay by showing a pay stub or federal identification at Groton Utilities and Bozrah Light and Power during regular business hours.
Bozrah Light and Power became a part of the Groton Utilities family of services on May 5, 1995 when the City of Groton purchased the former privately-owned utility.
Alabama-based Huntsville Utilities is currently “urging those affected to call us so we can walk them through their options,” said Joe Gehrdes, Director of Communications and Public Relations.
“We’ve had surprisingly few furloughed customers needing help, especially given the high number of federal government employees that we serve,” he noted in an email. “However, if this shutdown drags on much longer, we know that number will grow significantly, and we will likely need to have some special measures in place.”
Kissimmee Utility Authority
Florida-based Kissimmee Utility Authority is working with any federal worker who may need additional flexibility in paying their bill because of the government shutdown, said Chris Gent, Vice President of Corporate Communications.
He said that customers are being asked to contact KUA’s customer service center to discuss their individual situations. “We have communicated this through a bill message, our website and social media channels.”
KUA is offering payment arrangements, no late fees, and no disconnects for non-payment to federal workers.
Missouri public power utility Nixa Utilities is instituting a bill payment deferment program. Federal employees not getting paid during the shutdown may visit the Nixa Utilities Billing Office and show either a recent paystub, federal government employee ID, or letter from employer to qualify for this deferment program.
Bills must be paid 30 days after the shutdown ends. “This program is intended to avoid utility cutoffs for federal government employees who are unpaid during the shutdown,” Nixa Utilities said.
Norwich Public Utilities
Following the recent initiative of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont to support government employees impacted by the federal government shutdown, Norwich Public Utilities announced on Jan 17 that it will waive late fees for unpaid federal employees who are unable to pay their utility bills while the shutdown continues.
“We do not know how many of our customers are impacted by the government shutdown, but if our small gesture helps even one family through this difficult time, it will be worth it,” said Chris LaRose, Acting General Manager at NPU. “We are offering any of our impacted customers a little flexibility during this unprecedented time in the hopes that they can breathe a bit easier.”
Any NPU customer who can verify that they have been furloughed or are currently working their federally-funded job without compensation as a result of the federal government shutdown will not be charged the standard 1.5% of the outstanding balance as a late fee for as long as the shutdown continues.
Customers will continue to accrue their normal balances on their accounts for all services, but NPU said it is committed to helping to establish payment plans over several months to bring all accounts current over time.
“This government shutdown could have long-term consequences for the economy and for individuals and families here in Norwich. It is our obligation to provide assistance when we can for the community we serve,” said LaRose.
Orlando Utilities Commission
The Orlando Utilities Commission in Florida said it wants to help customers directly impacted by the federal government shutdown.
“The utility realizes financial constraints may affect these customers’ ability to make payments on time, and is committed to offering payment extensions, waiving late fees and making referrals to utility assistance programs and other agencies,” it said.
OUC provides electric, water, chilled water and lighting services – and also serves as the billing agent for the City of Orlando and Orange County, which provides wastewater and solid waste services.
Salt River Project
Arizona public power utility Salt River Project understands “that there are families that are struggling to pay their bills and we want to provide assistance. SRP has a number of resources available to our customers who are concerned about their ability to pay their utility bill,” said SRP spokesperson Patty Garcia-Likens.
“We always encourage customers to call us as soon as possible so our customer resource counselors can assist and refer them to the various agencies. In addition, our customer service representatives are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to sign customers up for our monthly discount and/or programs to help them save, reduce and manage their SRP bills.”
Garcia-Likens added, “We encourage any federal government employees impacted by the shutdown to contact us so we can work with them on an individual basis.”
Seattle City Light
Washington State’s Seattle City Light on Jan 11 tweeted that it would be participating in a resources fair at the Sea-Tac Airport to help federal safety and security employees who are continuing to work without pay during the shutdown.
“We'll have assistance program intake representatives on hand to help enroll you or make long-term payment arrangements,” Seattle City Light said in the tweet, noting that it would also participate in the fair on Jan 14.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Jan 22 issued a new executive order to help impacted federal employees with their utility payments. Durkan’s executive order builds on existing city assistance programs.
The executive order directs Seattle City Light, Seattle Public Utilities, the City Budget Office, and the Human Services Department to immediately develop a plan to offer deferral of utility bill payments to federal employees and community members who have been negatively impacted by the federal government partial shutdown.