by Olivia Murray
Several Morgantown residents claim to have received termination notices regarding their electric service through Mon Power, while others report that their power, or that of someone they know, was shut off.
Angelina Martinez said her recent electric bill amounted to over $400 and that Mon Power notified her of potential termination of services.
Martinez said she didn’t immediately have the money to pay the bill and was told by a representative of Mon Power that the company could not help her at that point.
“I am crossing my fingers it doesn’t get cut off before [I have the money],” Martinez said.
A Morgantown resident said a Mon Power employee came to her door to inform her that her power was going to be shut off. The resident asked for time to try and make the payment and was permitted to do so, though the employee said he would return that evening if the payment wasn’t made.
The resident was able to secure an appointment with the DHHR that day to receive assistance, but while she was waiting for an aunt to arrive to watch her children, the Mon Power employee returned.
According to the resident, the employee said since her payment had not been received, her service would be terminated despite the resident informing him that she had an appointment at the DHHR for assistance 30 minutes later.
“I didn’t receive any type of physical termination notice until the man knocked on my door and handed me the paper that morning,” the resident said.
The resident speculated that Mon Power may have tried to call her regarding the termination, but her phone number has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic started, so they might have been unable to reach her.
A Cheat Lake area resident said she and her husband, who have three children, were out of work for several months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We tried our best to keep up with the bills but every time we would make a payment, the next bill we got would be twice as much,” the resident said.
The resident said there was an instance in which her service was terminated by Mon Power. However, the family was able to resolve the issue within a day.
Tina Lindsay, also a Cheat Lake resident, said several of her neighbors recently had their electric service terminated.
According to Lindsay, one set of neighbors had two young children. Lindsey and her husband gave $60 to those neighbors to help them get their power back on.
Lindsey claimed a couple other neighbors also had service terminated, but have since been able to get it reconnected.
Lindsay said she was visiting with an additional neighbor, Cindy Taapken, when a Mon Power employee came to Taapken’s door.
Taapken said the employee told her that her services were scheduled to be terminated and that an employee would return to her residence to follow through.
“I had a payment agreement, and I think I was one payment short of meeting the terms of the agreement. You pay so much per month, plus your bill…because the bill was at one point paid, I guess, because of the pandemic, I just didn’t pay that close attention to it,” Taapken said.
Taapken said she was told by the employee that Mon Power did not have to make any further contact with her regarding the termination. Taapken said she did not receive a written termination from Mon Power through mail or otherwise prior to the Mon Power employee coming to her residence.
Taapken said this isn’t the first instance in which she’s been scheduled for termination by Mon Power without receiving a written notice.
Taapken said she had applied and been approved for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) through Mon Power, and was hoping that by late January, the payment from that program – which Taapken said she believed to be $332 – would have come through.
As of 1 p.m. Thursday, Mon Power had not yet terminated Taapken’s service.
Will Boye, a communications representative for Mon Power and Potomac Edison, said the service disconnection moratorium expired on Nov. 4, 2020, for most residential customers. For customers receiving CARES Act funding, the moratorium expired earlier this month.
“We know that this is a challenging time for many of our customers who are facing economic hardships due to the pandemic. We encourage all customers who are having difficulty paying their bills to contact us as soon as possible so that we can connect them with assistance programs or payment plans that can help them avoid service disconnections,” Boye said.
First Energy sent out a release earlier this month which encouraged customers of Mon Power and Potomac Edison in need of assistance to apply for LIEAP by 5 p.m. Jan. 29.
Boye said Mon Power adheres to state requirements regarding customer notifications prior to service disconnections. He was unable to speculate as to why customers who claimed to have reached out to the company regarding their services were unable to receive immediate help.
“We continue to work with the Public Service Commission to determine the best ways to assist customers through this pandemic while maintaining safe, reliable service, and we will comply with any commission order on service disconnections,” Boye said.
Mon Power provides a list of assistance programs on their website for those in need, including the Dollar Energy Fund (DEF), Emergency Assistance (EA), LIEAP, and the 20% Energy Credit Program. They also offer special arrangements options.
Servando Arredondo, Engagement Manager for United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties, said the organization has been assisting individuals struggling to pay their utility bills – or with getting their utilities turned back on – for some time.
United Way works with the Hazel Ruby Mcquain Charitable Trust, which provided a grant that United Way has repeatedly applied for to provide utility assistance.
United Way started the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund after the onset of the pandemic. Arredondo said the fund is intended to provide utility, rent or mortgage assistance to those in need.
According to the United Way website, the fund has granted $88,000 for COVID-19 relief.
United Way cooperates with other organizations in Monongalia and Preston Counties, such as Christian Help and The Salvation Army, to help struggling individuals. United Way partners with those organizations, who each make different levels of contribution, to pay utility bills that individuals can’t take care of themselves.
“[Help with utilities] is probably the most prevalent need right now, with a lot of individuals having been laid off or a reduction in income,” Arredondo said.
Arredondo said United Way has received a significant amount of calls to from the 211 service referral hotline, and the organization has worked to direct callers to the appropriate organizations for their needs.
Arredondo said the best way for community members to support each other through financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic is to share helpful information and make donations to organizations who provide extensive relief.
Donations to the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund of United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties can be made by texting COVID19MPC to 41444 or by visiting https://app.mobilecause.com/e/-4_68A?vid=gdwaz.
For more information on how United Way is providing assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit https://www.unitedwaympc.org/learn-how-were-helping.
For more information on assistance programs offered by Mon Power, visit https://www.firstenergycorp.com/help/billingpayments/assistance_serviceprogram/mon_power.html.