More than 1 million North Carolina families who are behind on utility payments could have their water, sewage or electricity shut off once an executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper expires Thursday.
The order, first signed in March, prevents local governments and private utilities from charging late fees or cutting off service if customers fall behind on their utility bills.
According to the state utilities commission, an estimated 1.45 million North Carolina families have either missed or paid their utility bills late between April and the end of June.
That includes people like Andi Miller, 39, of Gastonia. She said she owes about $90 on her electric bill that she can't pay. She relies on disability for income, and she lives in public housing.
"I'm hoping when I get my disability check, I can pay that," she said. If the check doesn't arrive in time and her electricity is shut off, "then I lose my Section 8 and I lose my home."
Add to that the ongoing pandemic and the current heatwave, and Miller says she doesn't know how she'd carry on.
"I don't want to lose my home because of my power," she said.
Some utilities and local governments say they're in a difficult financial situation themselves because of the amount of missed payments. That's partly why Cooper has decided not to extend his order past July 30. He's encouraging utilities to set up payment plans with customers.
The threat of shutoffs will come at the same time that unemployment benefits for more than 822,000 out-of-work North Carolinians begin to shrink by $600 a week. That's after Congress failed to extend the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program.
That reduction could have dire impacts for other people, such as Brittney Carpenter, 33, of Charlotte. She's homeless and lost her job at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport last month.
"Because of the $600, I've been able to stay in a hotel," she said. "But without it, where's my money going to go? I still have to eat, still have to wash myself, clean my clothes and all those basic things. So it's going to be kind of hard to do it."
She says she's saved up enough to stay in the hotel for another month. Afterward, she may have to move onto the street in the middle of the pandemic.
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