Atlanta – Today, 58 organizations across Georgia called on Governor Brian Kemp to take immediate action pursuant to his authority granted under the state’s emergency management act to ensure utility customers remain connected to essential electric, gas, water, sewer, and telecommunications networks, both during and after the coronavirus emergency. State executive action is needed for several reasons, outlined in a letter from the organizations to Governor Kemp.
According to the letter, while many of Georgia’s utilities have acted voluntarily to suspend shut offs, others have not. Also, voluntary commitments from utilities are unenforceable and subject to change. Essential electric, gas, water, sewer, phone and broadband internet services are needed to comply with directives to stay at home while sick, engage in frequent hand-washing, work from home, participate in online education, consult with health care providers remotely, monitor the condition of vulnerable family and friends, and follow other public health recommendations.
“Access to lighting, electrical appliances, telecommunications services, heat and cooling are critical at any time, but especially so during a pandemic when Georgia residents are required to shelter and learn at home,” the organizations wrote. “This action will undoubtedly save lives.”
The letter specifically asks for gubernatorial action to ensure that all unregulated municipal utilities, electric cooperatives and telecommunications providers, in addition to regulated utilities, refrain from disconnecting customers from essential electric, water and telecommunications services during this state of emergency, and to require utilities to reconnect customers who were previously disconnected due to inability to pay.
Further, the letter requests specific guidance on the many needed changes to utility credit and collections practices to protect utility customers whose incomes have been devastated by the economic shutdown, and who face an uncertain financial cliff when emergency orders are lifted. Consistent with nationwide guidance from the National Consumer Law Center, the organizations recommend the Governor take the following actions to ensure that consumers are protected from financial harm both during and after emergency orders are lifted:
- Elimination of any customer deposit requirements;
- Enactment of an “Affordable Deferred Payment Arrangement” (ADPA) policy that is designed to ensure the creation of flexible, reasonable ADPAs that are negotiated based on a particular customer’s ability to pay and income and expense circumstances, requiring no set maximum on length of DPAs and no minimum monthly payment amount;
- Elimination of any requirement that disconnected customers pay the full arrearage due before reconnection, thereby permitting reconnection upon issuance of an affordable ADPA;
- Elimination of reconnection fees;
- Elimination of minimum balance requirements for prepaid utility service customers;
- Elimination of credit reporting for existing customers and credit checks for new service applicants; and
- Utility write-off of debt for consumers who can self-certify that they are eligible for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) but unable to receive LIHEAP grants due to a shortage of LIHEAP funds or inaccessible LIHEAP services.
Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE)
Atlanta Bicycle Coalition
Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency
Bobby Dodd Institute
Center for Community Progress
Center for Sustainable Communities
Chatham County Housing Coalition
Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition
Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
Economic Empowerment Initiative, Inc.
Enterprise Community Partners
Environmental Community Action Inc.
Faith in Public Life
Focused Community Strategies
Georgia Advancing Communities Together
Georgia Budget & Policy Institute
Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence
GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students
Georgians for a Healthy Future
Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL)
Georgia Interfaith Public Policy Center
Georgia Micro Enterprise Network
Georgia WAND Education Fund
Grove Park Foundation
Harambee House/Center for Environmental Justice
Housing Justice League
Independent Restaurant Owners and Chefs of Savannah
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Southern Environmental Law Center
Mercy Housing Southeast
National Housing Trust
Paradise Missionary Baptist Church
Partnership for Southern Equity
Project Community Connections, Inc.
Quest Community Development
Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Sandy Springs Together
The Village Market ATL
Urban League of Greater Atlanta
Village Micro Fund
West Atlanta Watershed Alliance
The Young Entrepreneurs of Atlanta Foundation, Inc.