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Community Health Coalition proposes plans to avoid IID shut offs during COVID-19

-Editorial

On November 25, the Imperial Valley Community Health Coalition, a union of numerous non-profit entities, proposed a two-part plan to avoid utility shut-offs during a COVID-19 surge – drawing on the model for eviction moratoriums recently passed by the state legislature. At a November 16 meeting of the IID Energy Consumers Advisory Committee, members voted against the proposal to reinstate a regulation that would disconnect customer’s electric services for 9,486 delinquent accounts between March and December 2020 but urged committee members to bring forward a plan that would address a $10 million deficit in the IID budget and create a pathway for repayment for impacted consumers during COVID-19.

The IV Community Health Coalition proposed a plan that adapts the terms of the California eviction moratorium (AB 3008) to address the impact of COVID-19. The two-part plan establishes an automatic standard repayment plan for ‘delinquent’ accounts from March – December 2020. It ensures customers are not shut off on the basis of nonpayment and enrolls them on a 12-month repayment play beginning April 2021. For struggling consumers after January 2021, the proposal establishes a payment modification plan for COVID-19 impacted consumers (with documented hardship), who will be eligible for protection from disconnection if they pay 25 percent of their utility payments every month. In cases of extreme COVID-19 related hardship, where a consumer is unable to pay 25 percent of charges, will qualify for existing assistance to cover participation in the payment modification plan.

“Staying at home is the most important action people can do to stay safe during this pandemic. Shutting off the power will have devastating effects for our children that are distance learning, adults that are working from home, and individuals that are ill may need power for medical devices to recover to name a few. We want to believe we can pass a plan that will help consumers get out of this debt as this virus continues to ravage our community” explains Eric Reyes, a member of the consumer’s advisory committee.

A total of 20,000 residential consumers in the Imperial and Coachella valley are more than 30 days delinquent, and 9,486 are due for disconnection. Past due accounts were evenly represented across Imperial Valley (46%) and Coachella Valley (54%), with the cities of Indio and Calexico having the highest number of delinquent accounts. Notably, the cities most severely impacted by the inability to pay the electricity bill are also experiencing existing social inequalities that have contributed to a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in our community. Calexico is the city with the most COVID-19 cases in Imperial County while Indio is in the top 3 of most COVID infections in Riverside County.

“We want the community to have options that don’t put them in further debt and we want the IID to offer a repayment plan that is realistic while families face hardships during the pandemic. We invite the members of the public to go to the next advisory committee meeting so they can share their opinions about the proposed plan and to talk about how they have been impacted during COVID-19” explained Calexico city council member-elect Raul Ureña when asked about the situation.

IV Community Health Coalition views this issue as one central to the health of our community and urges IID directors to take actions that safeguard community members at a time of widespread hardship. The group encourages community members to let their IID directors know they support a repayment plan that is equitable.

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