As utility companies and municipalities start to remove moratoriums on past-due utility bills, residents may be stretched to make ends meet as the coronavirus pandemic continues to create economic issues.

Area social service agencies, utility companies and village and city officials said the most important step is to make contact with the business, or municipality, so they know there is an issue.

Two weeks ago, FirstEnergy was given approval from the Public Utility Commission of Ohio to resume disconnections after a six-month suspension, FirstEnergy communications representative Lauren Siburkis said in a press release. 

“The last thing we want to do is disconnect a customer’s electric service when it can be avoided by simply contacting our customer service team before shutoffs resume,” she stated.

The suspension of disconnections happened due to the overwhelming financial issues facing many families when the coronavirus pandemic caused closures of many business this past spring.

“Customer-service representatives are available to assist residential customers with manageable payment arrangements and can provide them with information on needs-based assistance programs,” Siburkis said.

The city of Geneva and the village of Orwell, and many other municipalities, have been encouraging people having trouble paying their bills to contact the provider to work out assistance.

The city of Geneva planned to send a letter giving people a month’s notice before any disconnection would take place. During a recent council meeting, it was indicated that about 300 people were behind in utility bills to the city.

Geneva leaders urged people to call and discuss the problem so a solution can be reached.

Community Action, Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army and Country Neighbor are groups that work to help people in danger of disconnection.

Country Neighbor Executive Director Barbara Klingensmith said the four agencies work together to fight the problem. “We do a little bit with disconnections and connect them with the big three [CA, CC and TSA],” she said.

“We actually have an energy collaboration that we work together,” Klingensmith said.

She said the agency will help build a bridge of communication to help solve the problem.

“Talk to your utility company. They will work with you,” she said.

Community Action Executive Director Judith Barris said a special summer assistance program recently concluded but another will start in November as the weather gets colder and needs arise.

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