Most WG&E customers caught up with bills in wake of pandemic

WESTFIELD- Westfield Gas & Electric announced July 7 that the majority of customers with delinquent bills due to the pandemic have fully caught up with their payments. 

During the July 7 Municipal Light Board (MLB) meeting, Customer Accounts and Credit Manager Arlene Paton said that a letter had been sent to more than 3,000 customers with bills more than 60 days past due in March. She said that some customers reached out shortly after the letter was sent to set up a payment plan, but that a significant number of customers did not. 

A moratorium on gas and electricity shut offs had been in place due to the pandemic and the financial struggles it caused. That moratorium was lifted in March, after which WG&E began the process of reaching out to customers with late bills. 

When many customers did not respond to the letter, termination notices were sent out. Paton said that 2,600 customers then ended up paying what was required of them. 

“For those two months, 374 customers had their service terminated,” said Paton. 

Of those 374 customers, 334 had paid what they owed as of July 7. Paton said that 40 customers remain on “vacant” status, meaning their power still has not been restored. 

The same process applied to Whip City Fiber customers, though to a lesser extent. Notices were sent to 519  Whip City Fiber customers warning that their internet may be shut down due to late payments. Of those 519, Paton said that 116 customers had their services interrupted at some point. As of July 7, 27 Whip City Fiber customers remain disconnected. 

WG&E General Manager Thomas P. Flaherty said during the meeting that there were some instances of Westfield State University students living off campus in Westfield who had graduated and moved out of their school-year housing, and ended up being late on some of their final payments. He said the collections department had to go through some effort to track some of the students down, as they live away from Westfield during the summer. 

Paton said that some of the late customers received assistance from Wayfinders and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Wayfinders is a Springfield organization that aims to help keep people out of homelessness. LIHEAP is a program run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s main function is to assist financially struggling families with their home energy bills. 

Flaherty had said in previous MLB meetings that he  hoped to have ratepayers caught up with their late bills by September.

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