After initially giving people several more weeks to pay overdue utility bills, Memphis Light, Gas and Water resumed cutoffs this week, leaving—as of Monday morning—at least 18,000 customers facing a suspension of services.
By the end of the day, that number had shrunk, said Gale Jones Carson, vice president of community and external affairs at MLGW. "Thousands” of people called to negotiate deals to keep their lights on.
MLGW is working with customers on payment plans, including giving them up to 12 months to pay down the balance.
Jones Carson says the utility is owed $26 million in overdue payments.
“At one point the average amount that customers owed was $650,” she says. “The average bill now that’s owed per customer for non-payment is over $1,000. So the longer that we go, the more the customer is in debt.”
Organizations like the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association and the Shelby County Community Services Agency are offering millions of dollars in utility assistance to help those struggling. Eligible residents can receive up to $800 from MIFA. Just since last Thursday, the organization has received about 150 requests for assistance.
The Shelby County School Board announced on Monday more help in the form of $200 grants for families with school children.
Jones Carson says the utility is working with Shelby County Schools and other organizations to prevent power cutoffs to homes with school-aged children so that their online education won’t be disrupted.
Asked if she could guarantee that the electricity would not be shut off in a home that is relying on online learning, she replied: “I can’t guarantee you 100 percent, but I can guarantee you 100 percent that we’re trying, that we’re working on it.”