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When the global coronavirus pandemic arrived in North Carolina, Alana Johnson heeded the warnings and purchased supplies to self-quarantine. However, that put her Wilson Energy account into collections and at risk for disconnection.
“I’m a disabled senior citizen, so I get a monthly income, but when I have to do something different to take care of myself, it is going to put another expense off,” Johnson said, noting a $308 utility bill hanging over her head. “I don’t want to expose myself to any unnecessary situations, so I got what I needed to survive, but now I don’t have the income to pay for my electricity.”
Originally, her lights were set to be shut off on Friday, but she paid $20 in late charges and obtained a weeklong reprieve from disconnection. Wilson Energy has a range of programs to assist customers struggling to pay bills, but the city has not followed in the footsteps of other utility companies that have temporarily discontinued disconnections. City officials are considering sustainable assistance for customers affected economically by the coronavirus, but the Wilson City Council has not approved any changes to Wilson Energy’s shutoff policies.
On Saturday, Johnson spoke with an 85-year-old man who was collecting funds to get another senior citizen’s utilities reconnected.
“I think everyone needs to band together and do what needs to be done,” she said, adding a loss of electricity could pose health risks for some residents. “Money later can’t recover lives lost now, so why take chances like this?”
While Johnson is glad she has another week of electricity, she acknowledged it isn’t enough since she won’t get her disability check until April 1. She added she will need to get more food and supplies at some point as well.
“If I give all the money to the electric company, I won’t have anything to eat,” Johnson said.
The state has established N.C. 211 as a resource for people to call for assistance related to COVID-19. Johnson said she hopes government assistance will be approved soon and Wilson Energy implements a sustainable solution to help those in need.
“If a kid falls and is bleeding, you need to put a Band-Aid on it right now, not see how far the blood drips down their leg,” she said. “The hold I got won’t last until my check comes, so I’ll be without electricity, and I know I’m not the only one in this boat. If there is a solution, it should be implemented now instead of making people lose sleep over it.”