United Helps Members Sort Through Virus Implications
Timelines for restarting business and lives in an environment where the novel coronavirus still flourishes has prompted much debate about what normal will look like tomorrow, as well as uncertainty for when safe status might be reclaimed. The pandemic has essentially tilted the world on a new axis, and one that will be far from what ordinary used to be.
Uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 and its catastrophic effects inspired United and other electric cooperatives to take extra measures to ensure members suffered less during a slow and arduous recovery from the pandemic outbreak.
Waivers were set in place by United in March to temporarily suspend service disconnections for non-payment, as well as to relax deposit requirements, suspend late fees, defer payment plans and to allow partial forgiveness of existing security deposits; and that went well beyond a similar Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) mandate calling for statewide investor-owned utilities to simply suspend disconnects and bill collections as a means of aiding consumers affected by pandemic shutdowns.
Along with those significant measures, the cooperative also in May accelerated the combined return of $9.5 million in United and Brazos Electric Cooperative member dividends to be distributed in July (traditionally disbursed in October) as an additional way to provide immediate assistance to members who were suffering prolonged financial duress due to the virus outbreak.
With those initial efforts, United CEO Cameron Smallwood said United’s main purpose is to improve members’ quality of life and to make a positive difference in the communities served by the cooperative.
“We empathize with members who have suffered financially because of the pandemic, and we still feel obligated to help where we can as we all continue to shoulder new burdens during this crisis,” he said. “These are extraordinary times and United Cooperative Services has taken extraordinary steps to provide members help when they need it most.”
Throughout the extended grace period, many United members heeded the cooperative’s advice to keep delinquent electric account balances as manageable as possible and to seek additional bill payment assistance through various area agencies and organizations who work in association with the cooperative to administer and provide additional aid when members face extenuating circumstances.
Among those affiliations, local organizations and agencies such as the following stand ready to assist members in need:
• Texas Neighborhood Services–Cleburne
• Harvest House–Burleson
• Operation Blessing Johnson County–
• Mission Granbury–Granbury
• First Baptist Grace Place–Stephenville
And while members have widely expressed their appreciation for the cooperative’s considerations during today’s difficult times, many also have recognized those extra measures will not be extended indefinitely.
While the moratorium on service disconnects must end at some point, the cooperative is remaining sensitive to the plight of many members having more difficulty in working through delinquent accounts.
Nevertheless, the cooperative is determined to help members work through delinquencies in a timely but common-sense fashion when that time comes. The most effective way to obtain assistance is to reach out to the local charitable organization working with the cooperative. These can be located online at ucs.net/covid-19.
“We realize it will take some time to reset and restore the account status for many of our members who may have lost jobs and income as a result of the pandemic, and who may still be struggling,” said Landy Bennett, United Chief Administration Officer. “And we understand we have an obligation to manage the retail side of the cooperative as acutely as we do in our responsibility to provide exceptional service and value as an electric service provider. We will work with and for our membership to come out of this disastrous event and we are optimistic we can accomplish anything if we work together cooperatively.”