The city of Fort Worth is lifting late fees on water bills through June in hopes of relieving some stress from people amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure announced this week applies to bills with due dates from April 1 through June 30. It does not apply to past late fees owed.
Water department spokesperson Mary Gugliuzza said the temporary lift on late fees for water bills applies to both business and residential accounts.
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“This is new to all of us in a whole lot of different ways,” Gugliuzza said. “We’re trying to be helpful to our customers. We know this is a difficult time. We understand that. This is unprecedented in any of our lifetimes.”
The decision was made in acknowledgment to customers who have become unexpectedly unemployed due to the pandemic, according to city officials. New figures released Thursday show a record 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, with the actual number of unemployed potentially much higher as many applicants have had trouble applying due to overwhelmed labor departments.
The city of Fort Worth began to temporarily stop disconnecting all active residential, commercial and industrial accounts for nonpayment. Gugliuzza said customers are still responsible for making payments in a timely manner, if possible.
“People are still responsible for those balances that are accruing, not in late fees, but in the general bill itself,” she said. “We understand customers are having challenges, and we’re not shutting off water on active accounts right now.”
Also recognizing the challenge facing Texans, the Public Utilities Commission of Texas has taken action. The commission regulates companies that deliver electricity and water to Texas homes, according to external affairs director Andrew Barlow.
“Basically, what the commissioners did last week was they voted to authorize a set of orders to help Texans in tough economic strains -- specifically their water, sewage and power,” Barlow said.
Water utilities that are not owned by cities and municipality districts, for example, have been ordered to not do any disconnections for nonpayment.
By and large in Texas, Barlow said electricity service is delivered to homes and businesses through a series of private companies.
“Commissioners have basically made it so that customers of any retail provider in Texas can call their retail electric provider or rep – for starters – for a deferred payment plan,” he said. “Retail electric providers are required to provide those to any customer that asks. So, right there – you’re looking at a situation where your lights are going to stay on.”
In Fort Worth, Gugliuzza said customers who experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 outbreak can set up payment plans and arrangements with the city. They can call 817-392-4477 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
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