Iowa Utilities Take Steps to Address Customers' COVID-19 Issues
By: Haley Van Loon
Many of the electric, natural gas, water, and communications utilities serving Iowans have taken steps to address their customers’ utility service issues associated with the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. Typically, these steps take the form of suspending disconnection of service for nonpayment, although the details of these suspensions can vary.
Early action was taken by the Iowa Utilities Board (“IUB” or “Board”), which regulates public utility services in Iowa. On March 13, 2020, the Board issued an order extending the winter disconnection moratorium for customers who are eligible for the federal Low Income Heat Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. The moratorium prevents electric and natural gas utilities from disconnecting a service that is used for residential heating during the winter months, typically ending on March 31 of each year. The Board extended the moratorium to May 1, 2020, so that Iowans who are eligible for LIHEAP would not lose necessary utility services while they are self-isolating at home.
On March 19, 2020, the Board informally extended the moratorium to protect all customers, not just those who are LIHEAP eligible, when it issued a letter urging a broader group of utilities (electric, natural gas, communications, and water services) to suspend disconnection activities during this emergency. MidAmerican, Alliant/Interstate Power and Light, Black Hills Energy, Iowa-American Water, and Liberty Utilities have all agreed to do so, and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities has notified the IUB that IAMU members intend to do the same.
The communications utilities have also been taking action. Mediacom is pausing all monthly data allowances for residential and small business customers and offering free access to its “Xtream Wi-Fi Hotspots” for 60 days, among other things. Verizon Wireless and AT&T have independently announced they will waive late fees for residential and small business customers if the charges were incurred because of economic hardship related to the pandemic. CenturyLink will waive late fees under similar conditions and has also waived data limits for those customers. These are just a few of the larger communications utilities in Iowa; see the web page of your provider to find out what may be available to you.
In addition to the offerings described above, some of the utilities have taken additional steps to help customers. MidAmerican Energy and Alliant are each waiving late payment fees for their customers in Iowa that are economically affected by COVID-19. MidAmerican Energy is also waiving deposit requirements for those customers. Finally, Iowa-American Water has not only suspended service shutoffs, but it is beginning to restore service to previously-disconnected customers so that they will have access to clean, fresh water while self-isolating or recovering from the disease.
In general, the utilities in Iowa are taking steps to help their customers during these difficult times. Customers who are having difficulty paying their utility bills should contact their utility to see what help may be available and to set up a payment plan or other arrangement for paying their bills.