Cutoff order extended; payments plans available for utility customers
Electric power distributors are working with customers on any late payment arrangements as the Public Service Commission has announced utility shutoff protection will end May 26 at 5 p.m.
The Holly Springs Utility Department, Northcentral Electric Cooperative, and North East Mississippi Electric Power Association are all preparing customers for the smoothest transition possible.
Customers with past due bills will be subject to disconnection of water, sewer, electricity and gas services if payment plans have not been arranged, according to a press release by Brandon Presley, public service commissioner for the Northern District of Mississippi.
The PSC order was recently extended until May 26 to allow time for customers to make payment arrangements.
Bill Stone, general manager with HSUD, said since the drive-through was open last week, a number of customers have come through and paid their past due balances. HSUD has not assessed penalties (aka late fees) since March 20 and has not established a timeline for resuming those assessments or disconnections. If any customer has paid the "past due" amount on the bill, the excess will show up as a prior credit balance on the next bill.
Presley urged utilities to begin immediately to offer payment plan arrangements to any customer behind on a bill and subject to disconnection May 26. The Public Service Commission will assist any customers who have not been able to make payment arrangements with their utility, he said.
The commission will also enforce the Ratepayer Bill of Rights, especially during lifethreatening circumstances such as when a medical doctor in Mississippi or an adjoining state certifies services are needed for medical or health reasons.
A form customers can use in these instances is provided by the utility.
Also, the utility cannot disconnect service for 30 days if the customer has been approved for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for the delinquent amount owed.
Cut-offs will also be prohibited during any days when an excessive heat warning has been issued by the National Weather Service, Presley said.
Presley's office can be reached at 1-800-637-7722 or at www.psc.ms.gov.
Stone offered the following agencies and phone numbers where HSUD customers can go to apply for assistance with a payment:
• Catholic Services/Sacred Heart Southern Missions (662) 252-1336.
• Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Marshall and Benton Counties:
— Northeast Mississippi Community Services:
Holly Springs Office (662) 252-2713
Ashland Office (662) 2248912.
— Lafayette County:
LIFT Inc. (662) 238-6222.
— Fayette County (Tenn.):
Delta Human Services Agency (901) 465-3201.
— Hardeman County (Tenn.):
Southwest HRA (731) 658-9292.
Stone said HSUD is working with customers to help make payment arrangements. Contact Tracy Holmes, HSUD customer liaison, at 662-2746603 concerning a payment arrangement. Policies have been adjusted so some arrangements can be made by phone.
Northcentral Electric Cooperative has suspended disconnects from May 14 to May 27, according to Michael Bellipanni with Northcentral.
He also urges anyone who is behind on an electric bill to contact Northcentral to work out options to manage past due balances.
"We encourage those experiencing hardship to call our customer service representatives at 800-325-8925 to make arrangements on their accounts, he said. "Northcentral is prepared to spread delinquent balances over a series of months to ease the burden on our members facing hardship due to the pandemic.
"We urge our members to make any effort to make payments towards those balances as they are able."
Energy use typically increases during the summer months, usually resulting in higher billing.
"We don't want to see our members further burdened with higher balances by combining portions of their spring bills with those they will receive over the summer months," Bellipanni said. "Northcentral also wants our members to know that there is federal assistance for qualifying low-income residents. The LIHEAP is available to assist families with their home energy bills."
Members can see if they are eligible for LIHEAP monies by contacting their local agencies. Those agencies and their contact info can be found in the "News" section of Northcentral's website at www.northcentralelectric.com
Tracie Russell, marketing and communications specialist with North East Mississippi Electric Power Association, said cut-offs for those with delinquent bills have been postponed and will begin May 27 for members who have not reached out to arrange a plan to pay past due bills.
NEMEPA is also offering information on the utility's assistance program.
"We are making arrangements with members but they have to contact us and we will give them options," Russell said. "We will help them any way we can."
Meanwhile progress goes forward on construction of a new building at North East and construction is in progress on North East SPARC, a fiber optic cable that will offer broadband service and access to the internet.
Rollout of the Phase I fiber to members is expected to take place in June, she said.
NEMEPA does not offer an in-house assistance program, however, it does work closely with the following organizations that offer assistance on past due utility bills:
• LIFT Inc.:
— Lafayette County 662-2386222;
— Union County 662-5348104;
— Pontotoc County 662-4897329;
• Interfaith Compassion Ministry;
— Lafayette County 662-2811002.
• Northeast MS Community Services;
— Marshall County 662-2522713.