Local utility providers promise no service disconnections for late payments

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Utility companies across southwest Riverside County are promising to leave utilities on in spite of customers’ ability to pay. Companies are making the move to suspend service disconnections in attempt to help those who may be struggling financially due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We want to assure our customers that the tap water will stay on as this incident progresses,” Andy Morris, president of the EVMWD board of directors, said after announcing the suspension of disconnections due to non-payment. “Since our customers’ health and safety are of the utmost importance and we understand the economic hardships this emergency is causing, EVMWD will suspend water shut-offs for non-payment through June 1.”

Customers who are facing adversity should contact EVMWD at (951) 674-3146 to discuss assistance plans.

During a March 19 specially called meeting, the Rancho California Water District board – in addition to suspending service disconnections due to nonpayment – decided unanimously to postpone any talk of possible rate increases at the district until September 2020, a move to show solidarity with the community during the public crisis. The district will also waive late fees for ratepayers. 

“We understand the economic hardship and health impacts our community is facing,” Jeff Armstrong, general manager of Rancho Water, said. “To help our customers as much as possible, Rancho Water’s Board of Directors took this vital step to ensure safe drinking is available to the community during this difficult time.” 

Rancho Water customers have several ways to pay their bill without visiting district headquarters, including online at www.myaccount.ranchowater.com, by phone at (951) 296-6930, in the drop box outside the Rancho California Water District offices at 42135 Winchester Road in Temecula or by email at rwbilling@ranchowater.com. 

For more information on RWD’s response to the coronavirus, visit www.ranchowater.com.

Eastern Municipal Water District representative Kevin Pearson said that the district understands financial issues caused by the coronavirus is an “unexpected and unprecedented hardship period for many families.”

“EMWD is suspending shut-offs for customers who have been financially impacted by the coronavirus,” Pearson said. “EMWD is committed to working with our customers. We strongly encourage customers in this situation to contact us so that we may discuss alternative payment arrangements with them.”

EMWD customers can reach out to the district through email, their My Account portal online at www.emwd.org or by calling customer service at (951) 928-3777.

All water districts are reporting their water as safe to drink.

“EVMWD is committed to providing its customers with safe and reliable water,” Greg Thomas, general manager for the EVMWD, said. “The coronavirus has no impact on the quality or supply of your tap water.  During this crisis, we are working diligently to ensure water and wastewater services are there 24/7, while scaling back other non-critical services to do our part in promoting community health and safety.”

EVMWD, Rancho Water, San Jacinto Power and Water, EMWD and Hemet water district have all closed their lobbies to the public to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and are encouraging customers to use their online payment systems or to pay their bills by phone.

San Jacinto Power and water will also suspend disconnections through April 27, but is requesting customers try and keep their accounts up to date. Since city Hall is currently closed to the public, water payments can be made via credit card on the city’s website at www.sanjacintoca.gov or by phone  at (877) 260-7818, check or money orders can be used for payment by submitting payment to the designated drop box located on the Sixth Street side of the City Hall parking lot.

“City staff will continue to operate between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday thru Thursday, and all essential services continue, as well as afterhours issues regarding water and sewer maintenance issues,” SJPW said in an email to Valley News. 

The city’s Department of Water, Power and Public Works after hours on-call team will continue to respond to issues in the field concerning the health and safety of residents.

Lake Hemet Water District failed to respond to request for an interview before press time.

Gas and electric service

SoCalGas and SoCal Edison are also suspending service disconnections indefinitely to customers who may be having a hard time paying their bill.

“We understand that our customers may be worried about paying their upcoming natural gas bill at this time,” Paul Goldstein, vice president of customer services at SoCalGas, said.  “We want to help ease their concerns and continue to provide the reliable natural gas service they depend on to heat their homes and hot water and cook their food.”

SoCalGas customers are encouraged to call (877) 238-0092 to speak with a representative about their bill. 

For more information about SoCalGas’ response to COVID-19, visit https://socalgas.com/coronavirus.

Over at SoCal Edison, in addition to the suspension of service disconnections for nonpayment, late fees will also be waived for residential and business customers impacted by the COVID-19 emergency. 

For more information, visit www.sce.com/billhelp.

Water, energy, sewer and communications companies that fall under the California Public Utilities Commission’s jurisdiction will also be suspending service disconnections, citing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of Emergency as the reason behind the suspension.

In an emailed statement to Valley News, CPUC president Marybel Batier said it would be wrong for people to have to worry about their services being disconnected during “these unsettling and unprecedented times.”

“The actions we are taking today will ensure that utility services remain available for California’s most vulnerable populations,” Batier said.

The CPUC’s March 17 action is to ensure that utility services will remain reliable and assist in California’s COVID-19 response by allowing more people to safely self-quarantine or telework, the agency said, adding that the customer protections were retroactive to March 4, the day Newsom declared the state of emergency.

Though most local utility companies, with the exception of SoCalGas and So Cal Edison, do not fall under the jurisdiction of CPUC, the move ensures that all utility providers continue the moratoriums.

Kim Harris can be reached by email at valleyeditor@reedermedia.com.