City will not disconnect utilities Friday
Governor’s ban ends, but customers will not be cut off
Beginning Nov. 6, utility companies can start disconnecting their customers for non-payment of bills. The Public Service Commission enacted a moratorium on disconnects for nonpayment earlier this year due to financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was supposed to be lifted on Oct. 20, however, Gov. Andy Beshear extended the ban until Nov. 6. Late fees are still waived until Dec. 31.
Utility companies are now making plans on how to help their customers work out payment plans and other agencies are lining up to assist customers as well.
Danville Chief Financial Officer Michele Gosser said the city is still developing a final plan to help its water customers who are in arrears. But disconnects will not begin on Nov. 6, she said. “There’s no way I’d do that. .. There will be ample time to set a plan.”
The payment plan being considered will allow water customers six months to pay off past due accounts, as long as they also keep up to date on their current water bill.
Gosser said her office has already sent out 400 letters this month to customers who are at least one month behind in their payment. She doesn’t know how many of those are behind due to COVID. But normally, her office sends out only about 200 letters a month, she said.
The letters are asking customers to contact the water department and set up a payment plan. “That’s the first step,” she said.
The letter also lists several organizations that can assist customers to get caught up on their bills.
Atmos Energy Kentucky manager for public affairs Kay Coomes wrote in an email that the gas company is in the process of making arrangements for all customers who are in arrears to be placed on automatic payment arrangement plans.
“We are in the process of completing that task and we are now sending those customers letters explaining their payment arrangement” which can range from 6 to 24 months.
Coomes wrote, “Atmos Energy understands the hardship this pandemic is causing our customers and communities and we want to help. Not only do we have the payment arrangement plans in place, but we want our customers to know there is help available. Not only did Atmos Energy donate $1 million dollars for energy assistance in our communities across eight states, we also have our Sharing the Warmth program in place in Kentucky.
“We ask all our customers who are in need to reach out to their local community action agency for LIHEAP funds and CARES funding and Salvation Army which handles our Sharing the Warmth program.
“In the Danville community, we also donated $7,500 to Family Services Association for energy assistance.”
A news release from Kentucky Utilities stated that the electric company will suspend disconnects until at least Nov. 9.
It read, “When timing is determined, the utilities will communicate with customers who are facing disconnect to ensure they are connected to available payment and assistance options.
“Disconnections are always a last resort for LG&E and KU, especially in the case of an ongoing pandemic. During the winter season, the utilities monitor the forecast and suspend disconnects in portions of the service territory where extreme temperatures are expected within 24 hours.”
“Customers can find organizations in their area and other helpful resources and information on the LG&E and KU website. Additionally, LG&E and KU have donated more than $250,000 to COVID-19 relief efforts across their service areas.”
Customers need to be vigilant against falling victim to scam artists who may be looking to take advantage of them during this uncertain time, the news release said. LG&E and KU will never call demanding payment by phone. Tips on how to identify and protect against scams can be found on the company website at lgeku.com/covid-19.
Blue Grass Community Action Partnership Executive Director Troy Roberts said the agency administers the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for the state.
He said he expects there will be an increase in assistance needs this winter.
“Our offices are receiving more calls for assistance than ever before. People are needing help with everything from utilities, food, rent or mortgage assistance. We are even getting requests for assistance with internet service for parents needing access for virtual school,” Roberts said.
“Water and wastewater bills are something we have never been able to assist with in the past. But, Gov. Beasher just created the Healthy at Home Water/ Wastewater Program that now will allow us to help families who have gotten behind on these bills due to the COVID crisis.”
Roberts said, “It is always good for people to call our offices when they are in a crisis situation. We may not be the one providing a particular type of assistance in a community but we know who can help.”
Roberts explained that Gov. Beshear’s executive order requires all utility companies (electric, gas, water, ect.) “to make a reasonable attempt to contact and set-up a default payment plan on past due amounts of $25 or more. All plans must be at a minimum of six months long and have equal monthly payments in addition to the current bill moving forward. If the current amount and the amount of the default are paid in a timely manner the client’s account will be considered up to date. Any customer also has the option of requesting an alternate payment plan that is agreeable to both the customer and the utility. Additionally, TEAMKY funds could be used for those that qualify.”
People can still apply for TEAMKY funds by going to https://teamkyfund.ky.gov/ or go to the BGCAP website at www.bluegrasscommunityaction.org and click the TEAMKY block to apply. All TEAMKY applications and back-up documentation have to be submitted in the state’s portal. There is also some money set aside for the Healthy At Home Gas/ Electric Component that BGCAP can take applications on as well.
Roberts said, “We have been allocated COVID relief funds for almost every program we operate. These funds are not unrestricted, so the particular funding source determines how they must be spent. More programs and funding for direct client assistance continue to be created to assist individuals with the COVID crisis.”
He added, “There is a lot of assistance out there. If someone isn’t sure where to turn, give us a call and we can tell you how to sign up for one of the programs we operate or point you in the direction of where you may be able to find it.”
Programs to get assistance
LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) Subsidy; contact the local BGCAP office in the county you reside to make an appointment.
Healthy At Home Water/ Wastewater- COVID Relief – Contact the local BGCAP office in the county you reside to make an appointment. Healthy At Home Gas/ Electric- COVID Relief- Contact the local BGCAP office in the county you reside to make an appointment.