‘Some families end up homeless’: Jacksonville advocacy group urges utility districts to stop disconnects during pandemic

Preventing power disconnects

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — JEA reported that approximately 22,000 customers have experienced disconnections since July 10.

The utility district continued disconnections after temporarily suspending them in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. JEA is also resuming its late fees and convenience fees as of Oct. 1.

The New Florida Majority in Jacksonville is urging utility districts across the state to suspend further disconnections.

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It joined the United Latin American Citizens of Florida in proposing a 90-day moratorium to the Florida Public Service Commission. According to the proposal, 1.25 million Floridians are behind on their utility bills and face disconnections.

On Tuesday, the commission unanimously rejected the moratorium.

Leigh Ann Gustavus is a climate justice organizer for the New Florida Majority in Jacksonville. She told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant that “Losing [utilities] could pose serious health and safety risks. It’s really life or death.”

Gustavus said that housing authorities typically require homeowners to have electricity and will force them out if the lights go dark. She said disconnections also pose a risk for residents with health issues like needing insulin to be refrigerated or needing to be on oxygen.

JEA said about 5% of its 445,904 customers have experienced a disconnection since July 10. JEA told Action News Jax that those numbers are similar to what they’ve seen in years past before COVID-19.

JEA customers can currently satisfy delinquent balances up to $600 in nine-month installments. The policy was previously $600 and three months.

In a statement, JEA said, “JEA understands these are challenging times. That’s why we suspended disconnections of electric and water service earlier in March, when Florida officials declared a state of emergency. Now as utilities across the country have done, JEA has resumed normal policies, including utility disconnections. Our decision making process has never changed, every decision we make supports our single most important goal – providing our customers flexible options to help stay connected to the utility services they depend upon every day.”