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COVID relief: Tucson Council working to help with utility bills

Working with utilities to forgive debt, extend payments
Posted at 7:50 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 21:50:06-05

TUCSON, Ariz. - Tucson City Council is trying to work with utilities to help people who can’t pay their bills because COVID-19 has reduced their income. The council is working on other ways to help people cope with the crisis too.

Tucson Electric says as of the middle of last month it’s low income program showed more than 3,700 customers behind on their bills with amounts in arrears ranging from $33 to about seven thousand dollars. The amount owed averaged out to $600.

Tucson City Council brought together representatives of TEP, Southwest Gas and the city‘s own water, sewer and garbage utility to try to work out ways to forgive some utility debt and allow customers to spread out payments on the rest of what they owe.

TEP representative Steven Eddy says the electric utility is committed to help.

“We just want people, our customers to get the assistance that they need so that they can continue to get reliable energy.

The companies and the city discussed various combinations of assistance, but they are still developing specifics. In some cases utilities need approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission to forgive portions of what customers owe.

Mayor Regina Romero says, “We have to make sure that we're, you know, making all of these different pots of money. Stretch as much as we possibly can so we can help as many families as possible.”

Asked about enforcement of the curfew Tucson enacted last Friday, the City Manager says police have not cited anyone for breaking curfew so far.

Tucson City Manager Mike Ortega says, “What they're finding is through the education process when they tell someone, ‘Hey did you know about this and they need to comply, because the way that we worded the ordinance is compliance --- that’s what we want is compliance --- and if someone is belligerent and they're not following the directive then a citation is issued.”

The City Council’s order that suspended bus fares was set to expire at the end of the month. Council decided to extend the moratorium past December 31 and decide in the first council meeting of the new year whether to continue the break on bus fares.