Area utilities are continuing to suspend disconnections for non-payment of bills as the COVID-19 crisis and ensuing economic impact deepens for local residents.

Paducah Power System, Jackson Purchase Energy Corp., Paducah Water, West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative and Atmos Energy have all extended the period in which they will not disconnect customers, first announced in mid-March.

In addition, West Kentucky Allied Services, which administers a number of assistance programs in the eight Purchase counties including LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), has extended its crisis help deadline to April 30.

Paducah Power reviewed the situation Monday, and decided to review it again April 15, spokeswoman Andrea Underwood said.

The coronavirus presents a unique problem for utilities, like it does everyone, since there is no timetable on when the crisis will subside.

“This is much more of a challenge because you don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Underwood said, contrasting COVID-19 with, for example, the 2009 ice storm.

“We’re just taking it a few weeks at a time, reviewing it, and trying to be flexible.”

Paducah Water General Manager Bill Robertson said the utility is not planning to disconnect customers at this time.

The next review would be by the company’s board at its April meeting, although Robertson said, “I cannot conceive of us not continuing to do it until the crisis is over.”

JPEC President/CEO Greg Grissom updated the cooperative’s members in a recent letter.

“We understand the challenges and overwhelming circumstances that many of you are facing, therefore JPEC will not disconnect consumer-members or charge late fees for a limited time,” he said.

WKREC is also continuing to postpone disconnects, said Georgann Lookofsky, communications and media relations coordinator.

“Like most people, our plan is to review that periodically going forward. The decision about stopping the disconnects will be based on what’s going on here in our community and the impact to our members,” she said.

As to how long that extension might last, “at this point we’re just not sure,” Lookofsky said.

Kay Coomes, Atmos Energy manager of public affairs, said disconnects are under constant review.

“Right now, it is still in effect,” she said. “We’re monitoring it as we can.”

While the Public Service Commission issued an order to suspend disconnects, “we had ours in place before we received that order because we understood that our customers would be in need,” Coomes said.

Area utilities have a number of payment options available to their customers and encourage anyone having difficulty paying to contact them.

West Kentucky Allied Services normally administers its LIHEAP assistance from the beginning of January through the end of March, said Jenny Rushing, Community Services Block Grant director.

However, the available funding for the program was extended due to the coronavirus, she said. The program pays up to $400 per month per qualifying household to help with electric and gas bills.

“We’ve had a lot more people who have had job losses or layoffs,” Rushing said. “We’ve also had more people calling in asking about it (assistance) due to COVID-19 who have never even applied before.”

WKAS has offices in each of the Purchase counties. While staff is still on site, the public is not allowed inside the buildings.

“We’re serving them by fax, we can email and some of us are actually texting people who can’t get out or who are too scared to get out. We’re still helping them. All they have to do is call us and we’ll give them ways we can help,” she said.

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