For Immediate Release:
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Laura Brewer (919) 716-6484
(RALEIGH) Attorney General Josh Stein granted Elizabeth City a conditional waiver of the Governor’s executive orders that prohibit utility shut-offs, late fees, and reconnection charges. The waiver went into effect today, immediately upon the city’s certification that it will follow the conditions stated in the letter from the Attorney General’s Office. The conditional waiver ensures that people who are unemployed or experiencing other COVID-19-related hardships are not disconnected or charged additional fees, while allowing the city to meet its financial obligations and continue operations by otherwise resuming utility disconnections.
“My number one priority in reviewing this request from Elizabeth City was to make sure that North Carolinians who are struggling with their health or are unemployed in the wake of this pandemic would not bear additional burdens that harm them,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “I’m pleased that my office was able to come to an agreement with Elizabeth City that will protect people experiencing COVID-19 related hardships while ensuring that the city can remain financially sound.”
Elizabeth City initially requested a waiver from utility-related provisions of the Governor’s executive orders on June 15. The city provided financial information and projections showing that the city was experiencing financial shortfalls in its utilities fund that threatened the city’s ability to meet its financial obligations. The city identified that without a waiver, its local electric rates would need to be increased by 10 percent to 46 percent to replenish cash flow, creating a burden on all consumers.
The Attorney General’s Office negotiated with the city to develop an effective alternative that includes the following provisions:
- Through January 1, 2021, Elizabeth City will provide a hardship exception for people who have contracted COVID-19, who have had an immediate family member contract COVID-19, or who are unemployed and not receiving unemployment benefits. The hardship exception will prevent these individuals from having their utilities disconnected or having late fees charged for balances that became due during the period of the Governor’s executive order, March 31, 2020, to July 29, 2020.
- For people who qualify for the exception because of illness, the exception continues until 30 days after the person has recovered from COVID-19.
- For people who qualify for the exception because of financial hardship, the exception continues until 90 days after the person has become re-employed full time or 90 days after the person has begun to receive unemployment benefits.
- The city will not immediately disconnect any customers for payments not made between March 31, 2020, and July 29, 2020, until they have given customers time to pay these balances.
- The city will offer customers who have an overdue balance an individualized payment plan that splits up money owed over a reasonable billing period that can extend beyond 12 months, if necessary. This payment plan ensures that the customer pays less than $100 of their overdue balance in addition to their current monthly bill. If customers do not accept an individualized payment plan, they will still have six months to pay back overdue balances.
A copy of the letter from the Attorney General’s Office to Elizabeth City is available here.