Coronavirus utility reprieves expiring soon — local governments say they're in a bind

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Customers and utility service providers are facing growing dilemmas as many states' disconnection reprieves instituted due to the coronavirus pandemic are set to expire in late July or August.

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States including Hawaii, North Carolina and Wisconsin will lift their bans on disconnections in late July. Many customers are worried about how they will pay off bills that have piled up.

"Honestly, I’m wondering if I’ll even be able to come out of the hole because not only do I have the water bill, but I have a light bill that’s trying to reach close to $3,000,” truck driver Chadwick Bey, whose family lives in Durham, North Carolina, told The News & Observer. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to pay any of the bills off.”

In this Nov. 26, 2018, file photo, a Pacific Gas & Electric lineman works to repair a power line in fire-ravaged Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Utility providers are also feeling the crunch. In North Carolina, utility providers are waiting on more than $200 million in unpaid bills from residential accounts, according to data collected by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's Executive Order 142 prevents utility payment collections until July 29. However, Elizabeth City officials said the city's utilities face impending insolvency and said it would begin collecting payments in July. The city was granted a conditional waiver of the executive order in July.

North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell supported Elizabeth City's arrangement, which will allow residents to come to "COVID agreements" for bills from March to June.

“For local governments, there’s real potential for financial peril because of this order. This is not political, it’s mathematical," Folwell said in June.

A woman reads a bill. (iStock)

Halfway across the nation in Bryan, Texas, demonstrators gathered on Monday to protest Bryan Texas Utilities and College Station Utilities restarting disconnections and late fees, KBTX reported.

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Here are the expiration dates for the following states' moratoria on disconnections and bills, according to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners:

  • Arkansas – Aug. 18
  • Colorado – Aug. 11
  • Connecticut – Aug. 1
  • Delaware – Aug. 6
  • Hawaii – July 31
  • Illinois – Aug. 1 or Phase 4 of reopening plan
  • Indiana – Aug. 14
  • Maryland – Aug. 1
  • North Carolina – July 29
  • Tennessee – Aug. 10
  • Texas – Aug. 31
  • Vermont – July 31
  • Virginia – Aug. 31
  • Washington – July 28
  • Wisconsin – July 25

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