BY STEVE SEIDL
Electric cooperatives are no strangers to extreme situations, but these are unprecedented times even by our standards. Iowa’s electric co-ops have plans and processes in place to manage all types of scenarios, including a pandemic like the one we are currently working through.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, national and local economies are struggling to adapt to social distancing measures. We know many families and local businesses will feel the financial impact from reduced or lost income for months to come. Iowa’s electric cooperatives and other utilities have temporarily suspended disconnections for nonpayment to help those in financial need. Please note that while electric and other utility bills may be deferred during this public health emergency, consumers will eventually need to pay for the services they have used.
As we forecast the long-term economic ramifications of COVID-19, electric cooperatives across America will be financially impacted in the months ahead. The CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association sent a letter to congressional leaders in April encouraging them to take action to support electric co-ops in the next stimulus package. In his letter, Jim Matheson noted that without federal assistance, cooperatives’ not-for-profit structure and cost-based rates may expose them to significant financial distress as the economic downturn causes high nonpayment rates coupled with declining electric load.
Locally owned electric co-ops depend on member-consumers to pay their bills in a timely manner so we can operate as financially stable utilities and ensure safe, reliable service when you need it most. The Iowa Office of Consumer Advocate and the Office of the Attorney General encourage consumers to keep current on utility bills or pay a portion to prevent large unpaid balances and reduce the potential for service disconnection once the public health emergency has passed. If you received a federal recovery rebate, consider using some of the funds to pay for the essential utility services you use to stay safe, connected and comfortable.
Financial assistance for utility bills
Concern for community is a core cooperative principle, and Iowa’s electric co-ops are willing to work with member-consumers who may have trouble paying their bills. If you are experiencing financial hardships, please contact your local electric co-op to discuss payment options. Co-op staff can also suggest ways to reduce your energy use to lower your bills. Our top priority is serving our member-consumers, especially in these challenging times.
You may also be eligible for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) financial aid by contacting your local community action agency. At the time of publication, the Iowa Department of Human Rights extended the LIHEAP application period for eligible Iowans until May 31, 2020. Those who demonstrate financial need may qualify for help in paying a portion of their household’s utility bill. Learn more at https://humanrights.iowa.gov/dcaa/where-apply.
If you are compelled to help your neighbors in need, please consider a tax-deductible donation to customer contribution funds like the RECare Program or Operation Round Up if your co-op participates in them. You can pledge a one-time contribution or a recurring monthly amount to these types of funds and your support will help those in need in your local community. Contact a member service representative at your local electric co-op or visit your co-op’s website to learn more.
Iowa’s electric cooperatives are committed to keeping the power flowing safely and reliably to you during these turbulent times.
Steve Siedl is the board president of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.