More than 16,300 people each month, on average, lose their utility service because they’re behind on their payments to JEA — that’s more than 10,700 prepay customers and more than 5,600 traditional customers over the service area.
After working on the idea for a couple weeks, JEA is providing some temporary help in August.
“We’re focused on giving our customers flexibility and trying to drive down costs as much as we can,” JEA Managing Director and CEO Jay Stowe said.
It’s not wiping the slate clean and the money is still owed, but Duval County’s utility monopoly made some news by suspending disconnections for six weeks beginning Aug. 1, and announcing the intent to no longer charge payment card convenience fees.
The disconnection suspension applies to all customers, across the board. While some utilities waived disconnections earlier because of COVID-19, it has yet to become a trend with rapidly increasing costs this summer.
“The call center has been extremely busy,” JEA Chief Customer Officer Sheila Pressley said. “Our customers are calling because they were taken aback, frankly, by their bill. They need help. So we thought, no better way to do that than to suspend the disconnections — just for a period of time — to give them some relief.”
Leaders within the utility began to seriously take notice with June’s bills.
“The month of June was the hottest and driest month in recent memory,” Pressley said.
Duval County received a little more than 2 inches of rain for the month, which was around 3.82 inches fewer than normal, and 1.85 inches fewer than May. Every day in June was 85 degrees or hotter, with 14 days of 90 degrees or hotter and one day of 100 degrees.
“The bills were higher than customers anticipated, and we realized they’re going to need some relief and more time to pay the bills while they’re buying school clothes and school supplies and all those other things that they’re trying to manage,” Pressley said.
She emphasized the need for people who are behind on their JEA bill to work with the company on a payment plan, so that when disconnections restart in mid-September, it’s not a problem and they can pay off that balance over time.
Beginning Oct. 1, JEA is permanently waiving card processing fees when paying bills. More of an inconvenience than a major issue, the fee runs $2.20 and is worth around $3 million annually to the utility.