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 Ayika Solutions Bobby Dodd Institute Center for Community Progress Center for Sustainable Communities Chatham County Housing Coalition Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta Deep Center Economic Empowerment Initiative, Inc. Enterprise Community Partners Environmental Community Action Inc. Environment Georgia 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 Georgia Equality Georgians for a Healthy Future Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL) Georgia Interfaith Public Policy Center Georgia Micro Enterprise Network Georgia PIRG Georgia STAND-UP Georgia WAND Education Fund Georgia Watch Groundswell Grove Park Foundation Harambee House/Center for Environmental Justice Housing Justice League Independent Restaurant Owners and Chefs of Savannah SisterCARE Alliance Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Southern Environmental Law Center LISC Atlanta Mercy Care Mercy Housing Southeast National Housing Trust Paradise CDC Paradise Missionary Baptist Church Partnership for Southern Equity Project Community Connections, Inc. Quest Community Development Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Sandy Springs Together Southface The Kenekt TransFormation Alliance The Village Market ATL Urban League of Greater Atlanta Village Micro Fund West Atlanta Watershed Alliance The Young Entrepreneurs of Atlanta Foundation, Inc. 9to5 Georgia