It is very unfortunate that this COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial challenges for so many people in our community. We have not witnessed times this tough since people were struggling to come out of the most recent recession. Because of these financial challenges, I want to remind Co-op members who are having trouble paying their electric bills about the importance of keeping in touch with us.
While every utility has those who are in disconnect status (typically because they aren’t paying their electric bills and they fail to contact the utility to work out a plan), it’s a whole new segment of the community that is concerning us now. Business owners, for example, and others who were enjoying steady incomes and whose industries were thriving before the onset of COVID-19, are now trying to figure out how to make ends meet. These are folks who’ve had no experience with not paying their bills, so they don’t know what to do or where to begin, and we truly empathize with their situation.
The first thing members need to do is call us. Given the opportunity, we can generally work out flexible pay arrangements. Another option our members have is to apply for energy assistance, which is funded by state and federal government agencies as well as private donors. There is additional funding available right now for those who are financially impacted by COVID-19. Whatever your situation, we want to reiterate that, at the first sign of trouble, the most important thing you can do is contact your Co-op.
Because of the COVID-19 situation, we aren’t currently disconnecting, but eventually these outstanding electric bills will have to be paid and disconnects will be reinstated. That said, disconnecting anyone is the last thing we want to do – we want to work with you to keep your power on. We are urging members to pay their electric bills, or at least as much as they can, to avoid having a large account balance when the disconnect suspension is lifted.
The bottom line is that Flathead Electric is a member-owned, not-for-profit utility that cannot ask those who do pay their electric bills to subsidize those who don’t. FEC must pay for its expenses including the power consumed in our service area, so members continuing to pay their electric bills is the only way to ensure that the Co-op’s expenses continue to be covered. We are also a business that operates on cooperative principles, one of which is concern for community, and that has never been more important than it is now.
We are here to help, and we can work through this together. We are ready to talk to members about payment options, available financial assistance, and the Co-op’s vast array of energy efficiency programs. Again, it is simply a matter of staying connected.
Mark Johnson, general manager
Flathead Electric Cooperative
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