TUPELO • Utility companies across the state can now begin disconnecting customers who haven’t paid their bill.

An order by the Mississippi Public Service Commission temporarily halting utility shutoffs expired this week, ending an allowance offered in response to escalating unemployment and wage loss triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tupelo Water & Light Director Johnny Timmons said the municipal-owned utility resumed disconnects on Tuesday.

“We picked right back up where we were when we shut things down,” Timmons said.

However, TWL will offer customers three months to pay the full balance of any delinquent bills if those customers complete a hardship waiver.

Timmons encouraged anyone with past due bills to come set up a payment plan. Utilities will remain on during the duration of the payment plan.

“We’ll fix you up,” Timmons said.

Since some Tupelo residents receive power through the Tombigbee Electrical Power Associations, Timmons held discussions with Tombigbee leadership and the two power providers have settled on the same policy.

All unpaid bills accrued during the disconnect hiatus must be paid, but no extra fees will be imposed.

“We’re not charging any late fees or interest or anything like that,” Timmons said. “That’s out of the question.”

Locally, assistance may soon be on offer that could help those in need pay utility bills. Mike Clayborne, president of the CREATE Foundation, is in talks with the United Way of Northeast Mississippi and local power distributors about the distribution of forthcoming grant money expected from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Details are still under discussion, but Clayborne said he does expect additional money to be available for those recovering from the economic damage of the pandemic.

“One of the ways it could be used would be for utility costs, but it could also be used for other things,” Clayborne said.

TVA has already distributed some money locally partnering with the Tombigbee EPA to give the Salvation Army chapters in Tupelo and Itawamba County $30,000.

With utility shutoffs resuming this week and evictions for non-payment of rent resuming next week, homeless aid workers are also watching the situation closely.

Hannah Maharrey leads the city of Tupelo’s task force on homelessness and also works throughout the state on the issue.

In the Tupelo area, Maharrey said she’s thus far not seen anyone relapse into homeless because of the pandemic.

“As of yet, none of the clients we have housed in recent years have lost housing due to COVID-related issues or job loss,” Maharrey said.

Mississippi United to End Homelessness, which works in the Tupelo area, offers individualized case management for its clients, and Maharrey said the local task force is compiling resources to assist the formerly homeless who may face difficulties paying rent or utility bills.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com

Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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