Utility billing, disconnections returning to normal after pandemic pause

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Since the pandemic hit in March, many utility companies have given their customers a grace period, ensuring no one loses connection to services, even if they’re behind on their bill. But now those grace periods are ending. 

“The jobs are still out here, right?” Sioux Falls resident Isatou Mboob said.

Mboob is back out doing job interviews after being out of work since the pandemic hit in March.

“Just from me coming from restaurant experience and being in the hospitality field, having that be shut down and having to deal with unemployment.

She knows many people who’ve struggled to pay their bills since the COVID shutdowns began.
“I have seen a lot of those that have,” Mboob said.

“We followed suit with some of the other larger private utilities in mid-March, right in the heat of COVID, we put out a policy working with the mayor and city council saying we’re not going to disconnect anyone until further notice,” Sioux Falls Public Works Director Mark Cotter said.

That notice has now come for the City of Sioux Falls.  It will go back to its regular billing policy starting September 1st.

“We’ll start to resume our disconnect procedures as well. We want to get everyone current especially before we go into a winter period,” Cotter said.

Internet providers like Midco joined the FCC’s Keep America Connected Pledge that waived late fees and disconnections through June 30th.

MidAmerican gave customers a pandemic grace period through July 1st and Xcel Energy started its regular billing in South Dakota back on August 3rd.

But all of these companies say they’re still willing to assist customers who are struggling to catch up.

“We want to make sure to work with our customers to the best extent we can to make sure they have a good payment plan and get current,” Cotter said.

“They have to do what they have to do, so do we right,” Mboob said.

Those still dealing with financial impacts also have other options to reach out for help.

“If you call the 211 they’ve definitely been busy, they have a lot of good answers and resources and stuff like that,” Mboob said.

The South Dakota Department of Social Services offers a Low Income Energy Assistance Program for households who meet the income guidelines. DSS says the LIEAP Emergency Reconnect Program assists eligible households who have been disconnected or are at risk of losing electric service. 

People interested in more information on the program or applying for assistance can go to dss.sd.gov and click on the Economic Assistance tab or call DSS at 1-800-233-8503.   

Those who are behind on the city of Sioux Falls utilities should call 605-367-8131 to work out a payment plan before September 1st. 

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