"The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted customers and communities across our service areas," said Delmarva Power Outreach and Community Engagement Manager Emory Brown. "Many of our customers are facing significant economic challenges, and arrearages are higher than they were this time last year."
During the 2021 Delmarva Power Energy Assistance Summit Thursday, officials with the energy company wanted customers to know there were several avenues for help available if they found themselves struggling to cover bills during the pandemic.
"We're in the business of keeping the lights on, and we work every day to provide clean, safe, reliable, and affordable energy services. But the past year has truly been a challenge for all of us," said Delmarva Power Region President Gary Stockbridge. "Our efforts to keep the system up and running have had their challenges as well. But we have found that constant communication and working together is the best way to make it through difficult times."
Stockbridge said with help from community partners, they were among the first in the nation to suspend service disconnections and late fees during the pandemic, while simultaneously providing over $800,000 in support to agencies in both Delaware and Maryland, and $19 million directly to their 21,000 customers.
"Recently, we have begun taking the steps necessary to return to standard business operations, in line with the guidance we get both from Maryland and Delaware," he said. "As many of you have probably seen, these steps are resulting in customers securing more energy assistance, establishing individual payment arrangements while trying to keep their services connected. These efforts are helping many of our customers begin to return to good standing on their accounts."
Delaware's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) manager for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Haly Laasme- McQuilkin, said assistance programs are paramount in maintaining equitable delivery of such services now more than ever.
"Delaware is one of the states that executes all the possible components of LIHEAP. Hence, we are providing assistance in heating, cooling, crisis, weatherization and Assurance 16," she said. "To be eligible for LIHEAP in Delaware, the maximum allowed household income for eligibility has to fall within 200% of poverty, the baseline for this interval is published by the US Department of Health and Human Services. If we have a disaster, a state of emergency, or extreme weather, Delaware shifts its eligibility of crisis component to 60% of state median income."
Laasme-McQuilkin said because their disaster policies were designed to be as specific and inclusive as possible, the program was ready to help as soon as the pandemic started, making them a valuable energy assistance asset.
"We started designing it during the biggest Ebola outbreak in 2016, and therefore it was very important to us that epidemics and public health emergencies would be included in the list of possible disasters. Since then people have often been very surprised when they look at our list of possible disasters," she said. "For example, volcanic activity might look like an amusing and impossible event for Delaware. However, the consequences of volcanic activity in the United States can cause indirectly serious repercussions to Delaware's economy, environment, and public health."
Programs like SHORE UP! Inc. also not only help provide energy assistance, but help users budget a consistent year-round energy bill directly with utilities, to protect against seasonal spikes when more energy is required to power AC or heating units.
"We work a lot with our utility companies to expand our outreach efforts," said Tameka Kenan-Norman, chief development & communications officer. "Maybe they know about a family that we didn't know about or an area that we didn't know about. So, we use our grant funds to help those individuals and it helps us to expand those outreach efforts."
Customers currently facing financial difficulties due to COVID-19 are urged to get in touch with Delmarva Power through their assistance page, for connection to payment arrangement help and assistance programs.