Many Hoosiers are facing unemployment due to the COVID-19 crisis. Because of that, the state says utilities aren’t allowed to disconnect water, sewer, or electricity to their customers until the emergency order has lifted.
Uncertainty over when that might happen is worrying both utilities and consumer advocates.
Kerwin Olson is the executive director of the consumer advocacy group the Citizens Action Coalition. He says when the emergency order lifts, it’s likely many Indiana residents will still be unemployed and unable to pay.
“Our fear is mass disconnections by utilities because of these enormous balances," Olson says.
Many utilities say they’re facing financial hardship too — not only due to unpaid bills, but also because closed businesses and schools aren’t using services.
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“There are several things taking place that put all utilities in a tight situation right now," says Connie Stevens, executive director of the Alliance of Indiana Rural Water.
Stevens says if revenues continue to drop, smaller water and wastewater utilities may have to sell out to private companies — which means communities wouldn’t have as much of a say in their rates.
But as for customers with unpaid bills, Stevens says she believes utilities will allow them time to catch up when the emergency order lifts. She says a task force may be unnecessary.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.