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Opinion: There is help for utility customers struggling in West Virginia due to COVID

By Charlotte Lane, chairman

West Virginia Public Service Commission

We are now seven months into the difficulties, challenges and uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many of our fellow West Virginians have lost jobs, continue to be unable to work and earn incomes equal to pre-COVID levels and have been dealing with tremendous economic stress and financial hardship.  Many are forced to decide whether to pay utility bills or buy food, medicine or pay for other essentials. 

Charlotte R. Lane

Governor Justice recognized the dilemma in which thousands of West Virginians are finding themselves and has allocated $25 million of the CARES Act Relief Fund to assist qualifying West Virginians who, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are struggling to pay their utility bills.

Residential customers of electric, natural gas, water and sewer utility companies who have experienced economic hardship and/or uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, causing them to have unpaid utility bills from the period of March 1 – July 31 of this year, may receive financial assistance to pay those bills.  Past due balances for bills issued before or after the eligible period, are not eligible for payment through this grant program.  Questions regarding eligibility should be directed to your utility company.

Over 133,000 West Virginia residential customers who qualify for these funds will receive letters and an application from their utility companies.  Customers must complete and return the application to either their utility company or the Dollar Energy Fund no later than Thursday, Nov. 12. 

We recognize that this generous grant program may not alleviate everyone’s entire delinquency.  The Public Service Commission has specially trained Consumer Affairs Technicians who are available to assist customers in negotiating payment arrangements with their utility companies.  And the utilities are continuing to work with customers who are behind on their bills by offering payment plans.  We appreciate the utility companies that have voluntarily not terminated customers during this difficult time.

I would like to thank Governor Justice for making this money available to the customers who need help with their utility bills.  Our goal together is for people to continue to receive service and for our utility companies to remain strong so that they can continue to provide service to all West Virginians.

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