Some of Boise’s major utility companies started to ease back into collections after months of holding off due to COVID-19.
In mid-March, Idaho Power, City of Boise, and water company SUEZ all stopped collections and disconnections for residents who fall behind on payments. The moves came as Idaho’s unemployment shot from record lows to double digits in a matter of days. Now, as the economy is slowly recovering from the shock of the pandemic, these companies have started to look at their rolls to see who is behind to catch them up on what they owe.
SUEZ, the France-based drinking water company servicing Boise, has not resumed sending residents with overdue balances to collections. Spokeswoman Jane Kreller said the company has set up payment plans for residents with balances due and there are no late fees.
“We really want to make sure their water bill is not a stress right now, because everyone is dealing with so much,” she said.
At this point last year, 3% of customers had past-due balances on their SUEZ accounts, compared to roughly 10% of customers now. However, Kreller said the payment plan means more of those residents who owe balances are paying the company back toward what they owe. The payment plans mean they are paying the balance back more slowly than they might have before.
Idaho Power resumed collections in mid-August, and has also implemented payment plans for customers behind on their balances. Spokeswoman Erica Shiflet said only 1% of accounts statewide are in collections.
“We are working with customers to set up realistic payment arrangements for those who are struggling and have developed new payment plans to help during these unprecedented times,” Shiflet said in an email. “Disconnection is always a last resort.”
City of Boise
The City of Boise will resume collections for water renewal services on Oct. 1. City spokesman Colin Hickman said the city is starting the process of looking at the customer rolls to see who is behind and how they can be caught up with payment plans. He said water renewal shut offs are “rare.”
“Those who’ve been impacted by COVID need to contact us and reach out for assistance,” Hickman said. “If the customer contacts us we will help them set up realistic payment arrangements and work to resolve their account.”
As the United States started to reopen, several states lifted moratoriums on utility shut-offs. This could expose more low-income Americans to power and water shutoffs during the pandemic.