JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – JEA resumed disconnections Tuesday for thousands of customers who are behind on payments after a seven-week moratorium.
The publicly-owned utility originally planned to start the process Monday but pushed it back because of long lines at the JEA customer center and high call volumes Monday.
News4JAX learned 7,300 calls came in in the first hour on Monday. Scammers telling customers they would be disconnected contributed to that, officials said.
A freeze on late fees and disconnections expired on Sunday.
A JEA spokesperson said that as of Monday night, about 3,800 customers are facing disconnection this week. According to JEA, the temporary disconnections will be staggered, starting with customers with debt dating back the furthest.
Customers who are at risk of disconnection will receive a two-day notice before their power is cut off, according to JEA, either through email, phone or text.
JEA offers a list of resources for people who need help making payments.
Many people wanted to talk to someone face to face about losing their service, and lines of people snaked through the lobby of the JEA Customer Service building Monday.
News4JAX spoke with some people who say their electric bills doubled in recent weeks and they can’t afford to pay. Many people are struggling with the expensive power bills caused by the high cost of fuel and hot summer temperatures.
“They’ll take the $600 but then they’re giving me three days to pay the remainder,” Jasmine Castro said. “I’m on public assistance. What do you want me to do, go strip on the pole to get the money? I’m going to do whatever I have to do to keep them on because I have a child that I have to make sure has lights.”
Another customer told News4JAX that despite the moratorium, her bill is still high—and she just doesn’t have the money to pay.
“It just pushed the cost off till later. And then people’s bill is sky high and then they’re figuring because they gave you this break, you don’t deserve… you know you can’t get a payment arrangement, you know if you got an expensive bill -- you don’t qualify for it, so I think they just put people more in the hole,” Juanita Leonard said.
A spokesperson with JEA said customers can pay online and at several spots, including Publix and Winn Dixie locations. She also said customers can try to set up payment plans or extensions online, and the system will let them know immediately if they qualify.
JEA spokesperson Karen McAllister says the moratorium helped 12,000 customers avoid disconnection since Aug. 1 and that the moratorium gave people more time to find funds to pay.
“We were in touch with customers throughout the six week grace period, notifying them of their options, providing their options for providing payments and seeking payment arrangements and also notifying them about the deadline,” McAllister said.
Leonard says even with the extra time, she wasn’t able to get enough money together and didn’t qualify for a payment arrangement.
“The only thing I was able to come up with was $250 because I still got to eat. I still got other bills,” Leonard said.
A spokesperson with United Way says rental and mortgage assistance are usually the top needs for callers, but in August, callers to 211 were seeking help with utilities more than anything else.
But according to United Way, less than 3% of callers looking for help with utility bills will be able to get relief because available resources are extremely limited.
However, they say there are workarounds. If utility assistance isn’t available, callers can try to get help with food or housing to save any available cash for their power bill.
United Way urges people to keep calling 211 because the resources available are always changing. For example, JEA announced Tuesday morning they got a donation of $10,000 from their unions, which is enough to help a few dozen people.
If you can’t get through to United Way by calling 211, you can text them HELLO to 211904 to be connected to their team of information and referral specialists.
Last week, News4JAX spoke directly with JEA managing director and CEO Jay Stowe about the rising bills. You can watch part of his interview with us below: