Help is available for customers struggling with utility bills | Guest Viewpoint

Jeff Randall
Posted 7/29/21

The financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns continue to reverberate in our community. As of early July, the PUD had more than 1,100 customers with delinquent power or water …

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Help is available for customers struggling with utility bills | Guest Viewpoint

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The financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns continue to reverberate in our community. As of early July, the PUD had more than 1,100 customers with delinquent power or water bills.  

Past-due and unpaid PUD bills currently total more than $700,000, an unprecedented amount for PUD customers. Over a third of these bills are past-due for more than three months and some customers have not made a single payment in over a year. 

PUD policies state that customers will be notified they face the possibility of disconnection of their utility service when they have a balance of more than $75 that is more than 52 days past due. 

When COVID-19 made its way to Jefferson County in March 2020, my fellow commissioners and I immediately voted to suspend all shut-offs of residential utility services for non-payment. With statewide shutdown orders and so many of our customer-owners suddenly out of work, it was the right thing to do.  

We are a community owned public utility. Unlike a private company our obligations extend beyond the PUD’s financial bottom line, the economic health of all of Jefferson County is our concern. The PUD’s utility services are essential to the health and safety of our community. In the midst of an unprecedented, existential health threat, we didn’t want to see anyone at risk of losing access to clean water, light or heat.

Governor Jay Inslee agreed with us and set a statewide moratorium on utility shut-offs shortly after we did. 

That moratorium is currently set to expire Sept. 30.

If nothing changes, more than 5 percent of PUD customers are set to receive shut-off notices in October. 

Jefferson County PUD doesn’t want to see any customers shut-off for past due bills. And if customers who are behind on payments reach out to us, we shouldn’t have to. 

Right now, thanks to multiple federal assistance programs, there are more ways than ever for customers to get help catching up on bills. 

If your household has been financially impacted by COVID-19, contact OlyCAP at olycap.org or 360 385-2571 immediately. They have funding to help with every kind of utility bill, even garbage and phone service. And if you are a renter, they can potentially help with up to 12 months of past-due utility bills.

If you are unsure if you qualify for assistance, reach out anyway. Or call our PUD customer service team at 360-385-5800. We can help guide you through your options and offer customized payment plans to pay back past-due balances over time. 

Now is the time to take action to get these past due accounts under control, during the summer months when electric bills are lower than they will be when the cold sets in after the Sept. 30th deadline passes. 

If we work together, we can avoid sending any shut-off notices, and keep everyone supplied with power and water.*

The PUD is here to help. That’s one of the advantages of having a public, locally-owned utility. The PUD’s employees are Jefferson County residents. They are your friends and neighbors. 

Our customers can also pitch in to help by rounding up their monthly payment or donating larger sums to our Rainy-Day Fund. In 2020 we received record donations of more than $40,000 to this fund to help our customers in need. OlyCAP and St. Vincent De Paul use these funds to help keep the power on and water flowing for some of our county’s most at-risk residents.

We are going through very difficult times and many of us are still hurting. 

No one needs to lose their essential utility services. Help is available. If you are behind on your utility bills reach out now. If you know someone struggling, urge them to get in touch with PUD staff and OlyCAP for assistance. And if you yourself can help others in need, consider making a contribution to our Rainy Day fund or join our bill round up program to help others who need it. 

By working together we can reduce the negative impacts of COVID-19. The PUD and our partner agencies are here to help.  

* The PUD does not supply water to the residents of the city of Port Townsend.

(Jeff Randall is the District 1 commissioner for Public Utility District No. 1 of Jefferson County.)

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