As an essential service provider, we know that electricity and water are foundational to all other areas of the economy, healthcare, and public safety.
Our long-term approach to the pandemic includes four parts, which we refer to as the 4Rs: Respond, Reintegrate, Recover, and Replenish.
Our first order of business was helping to contain the spread of the virus, ensuring we could continue critical services, and implementing short-term crisis programs for customers.
In mid-March, EWEB voluntarily issued a moratorium on service disconnections, allowing customers who are financially impacted by the pandemic to temporarily defer payments without worrying about losing electric services (the suspension was lifted in August 2020). We temporarily extended a $260 bill assistance credit to customers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, increased funding for our bill assistance program, and allowed customers to defer existing loans. The bill assistance credit was increased to $280 in May 2021.
For the safety of our staff and customers, we closed EWEB offices and lobby to the public and adopted practices such as teleworking and scheduling employees to work staggered shifts.
EWEB has remained open throughout the pandemic but under modified conditions. Our staff has continued to perform vital work such as responding to emergency outages, operating the 24x7 water filtration plant, and supporting an unprecedented volume of billing and payment assistance requests.
In mid-May 2020, we began a gradual and responsible return to our facilities. Similar to the State of Oregon's approach, EWEB's workforce will reintegrate in three phases that may take months. The first phase focused on returning electric and water field crews to full strength. Over time, we will reintegrate office staff who have been telecommuting, and the final phase will be a mix of a facility-based and remote-based workforce.
Economic recovery will be a slow process and a community-wide effort. EWEB is approaching this phase with three primary goals:
As an essential service provider, we must maintain the strong financial foundation needed to provide clean, safe, and reliable power and water-the backbone that supports all other areas of the economy, healthcare, and public safety, while continuing to assist vulnerable customers who are struggling to pay their bills.
As our community recovers from the effects of the pandemic, EWEB must return to full operations, and late payment fees and collection fees are reinstated as of May 2021. At the same time, we also adjusted our bill assistance credit to $280 to continue to help customers who have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
Pandemic-related economic consequences will likely be severe, and we will need to assess and adjust over the long-term to replenish economic shortfalls and continue to serve our customer-owners.
Fortunately, EWEB entered this crisis in a financially resilient position, after several years of efforts to become more efficient, lower operating costs, and reduce debt. Residential electric prices have held steady for five out of the last six years, and water prices have not gone up since 2016. This will make it easier to rebuild the utility's financial resiliency, but depending on the severity and duration of this crisis, replenishment could take months or years.
Looking ahead, every decision we make will continue to reflect our core values as your community-owned utility: