|RALEIGH (September 1, 2020) – In advance of the North Carolina General Assembly’s reconvening this week, 33 social justice, environmental, labor, and community groups are calling on the North Carolina General Assembly to allocate $400 million to alleviate unpaid residential utility bills and stabilize the provision of vital utility services. Electricity, water, and gas are services vital to combating the spread of the coronavirus, to staying connected and informed, and to maintaining a healthy and safe place to live. The groups also support House Bill 1200 that, in addition to utility assistance, would also provide rental and mortgage payment assistance.
Read the full letter here.
“COVID-19 has placed a heavy financial burden on our most vulnerable populations,” said Rev. Mac Legerton, co-director of the Robeson County Cooperative for Sustainable Development stated. “Local and regional utility companies in both rural and urban communities are now strapped with countless unpaid utility and water bills,” explained Legerton. “Public and private landlords and banks face similar losses. Federal monies allocated for COVID-19 aid can provide needed pandemic relief to our families, public and private utility services, and housing providers.”
As of the end of July, the Robeson County Water Department had 1,233 (out of 25,760) residential accounts past due, totaling approximately $284,000 in unpaid utility bills. Across the state, hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians are at risk of having their electricity, water, and natural gas shut off during this health and economic crisis as shut-off moratoriums issued by the Governor and the Utilities Commission come to an end. Governor Cooper’s Executive Orders 124 and 142 mandated a statewide utility shutoff moratorium that expired July 29, 2020, exposing residents served by rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities. The North Carolina Utilities Commission order, which covered regulated utilities such as Duke Energy and Dominion, expires September 1. While the moratoriums expire, the underlying conditions — the pandemic and high unemployment — have not changed since March.
Utilities report approximately $226.2 million in unpaid residential utility bills as of July 31. This is almost certainly a significant underestimation of the actual number of arrearages as the report does not include data from any of the state’s 26 electric cooperatives, and only includes data from less than half of the municipal utilities. Without these funds, some small municipal and electric cooperatives face serious financial challenges.
On Tuesday, August 25, 2020, the Governor committed $175 million to assist North Carolinians; much of this funding will be used for both rental assistance and utility bill assistance. “While this is a step in the right direction, it is nowhere near enough to assist the at least one million North Carolinians with utility bills they are unable to pay,” said Claire Williamson, an Energy Policy Advocate at the NC Justice Center. “With over $550 million in unallocated CARES act funding and other funding sources, legislators can and should allocate those funds to help people stay safe in their homes. It is time for the General Assembly to act.”
The letter includes a policy proposal for legislative consideration that would alleviate arrearages for people most in need, those under 200% of the federal poverty or 80% of area median income, while also stabilizing the financial situation of utilities.