By Catharin Shepard – Staff writer –
Utility companies will not be allowed to disconnect services to customers in North Carolina for at least 60 days under a new executive order signed Tuesday by Gov. Roy Cooper. Cooper said the order is meant to help families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and steps taken to slow its spread.
“I know our economy has taken a hit, and so have the finances of people across North Carolina. That’s why I took action to make unemployment benefits more widely available, and the federal boost of $600 a week can help people and it can help them stay afloat when they’ve lost their jobs. Help for small businesses is on the way along with federal stimulus checks, but we know we will have to do more,” Cooper said during a live streamed press conference Tuesday afternoon. “So now we’re taking another step to help families. Today I’ve signed an executive order to prohibit utilities from shutting off service to people who are unable to pay.”
The order applies to electric, gas, water and wastewater services, and could be extended after 60 days pending reevaluation of the situation at that time. The governor also “strongly urged” telecommunication services like phone and internet companies not to shut off service for nonpayment, encouraged banks not to charge customers overdraft fees, and urged a halt to evictions for people struggling to pay rent.
Cooper praised the utilities providers that had already announced they would halt disconnections. Hoke County, the city of Raeford, Duke Energy and Lumbee River EMC had already chosen not to shut off utility services to customers during the state of emergency. (Those bills still accrue and must be paid.) The governor’s order implemented the same halt on disconnections for all utilities state-wide.
“People should still pay their bills, and the vast majority want to and do. But during this crisis, some just don’t have enough money. These protections will help families stay in their homes and keep vital services like electricity, water and communications going as we stay at home,” Cooper said.
The governor also activated additional National Guard service members to help with tasks such as delivering supplies and conducting engineering assessments for building alternative hospital facilities, if necessary. There are now 180 Guard members assisting the state.
North Carolina continues to push for additional medical supplies. As of yesterday, the state had received only about 17 percent of its requested items from the National Strategic Stockpile. That’s not enough, and emergency management continues seeking more supplies through other sources, Cooper said.
In remarks, the governor asked shoppers to be mindful of others’ needs and not over-buy supplies at local grocery stores.
“Food supplies remain strong, so just buy what you need so there’s enough for everyone,” he said.
There are four known cases of COVID-19 in Hoke County as of Tuesday. The fourth, most recently identified case is a military-connected person who tested positive after being screened at an urgent care center in Cumberland County, Hoke Health Department Director Helene Edwards said.
There are nearly 1,500 known cases of the illness across the state. Eight people in North Carolina have died from COVID-19, and 157 are hospitalized, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
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