This story was updated at 3:43 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, with more information.
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Chattanooga Gas Company and Tennessee American Water have temporarily suspended service disconnections for nonpayment due to concerns that the coronavirus outbreak may cause financial hardship for customers impacted by employment changes or business slowdown.
Chattanooga Gas Company has temporarily suspended service disconnections until April 13 and the suspension will apply to both residential and commercial customers, according to a news release from the company.
"We understand that now, more than ever, our services play a critical role in our communities," said Bryan Batson, president of Chattanooga Gas, in the release. "We stand with the Tennessee Public Utility Commission in our commitment to ensuring that every family and company in our community has the fuel they need to continue heating their homes, cooking their food, taking warm showers and running their businesses."
As the company assesses a path to move forward, it's offering the following programs and tools that can help customers take control of their energy bills:
* Chattanooga Gas' Budget Payment Plan: Can help even out the highs and lows of natural gas costs throughout the year by allowing customers to pay a consistent amount every month for a 12-month period, making household budgeting a little easier. The Budget Payment Plan is a free service for Chattanooga Gas customers.
* Energy Conservation Program: Offers ideas and tools to help customers save energy and money. Education, resources and financial rebates are provided for customers to make energy use in their homes efficient and affordable. Energy-saving tips can be found here.
Residential customers can also access energy assistance options that are available to support those impacted as a result of the COVID-19 emergency. The following local community agencies can help customers who may be experiencing personal financial strain resulting from the pandemic:
* LIHEAP: The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is a federally funded energy assistance program that helps low- and fixed-income families meet their energy needs during the heating season. Funds still may be available for those who qualify based on several factors including fuel type, geographic region, household size and income. A list of locations where customers in the Tennessee area can apply for LIHEAP can be found at chattanoogagas.com.
* Warm Neighbors: This supplemental program provides a one-time annual grant to qualified residential customers and is funded through direct contributions from CGC employees and customers who make donations via their monthly natural gas bill payment. To apply, customers in Hamilton County can contact United Way at 423-265-8000. Customers in Bradley County can contact The Caring Place at 423-472-4414.
* United Way: Dial 211 for Tennessee's United Way Human Services hotline. United Way personnel are trained to help customers and can provide phone numbers and addresses of the most convenient places to seek assistance.
* Credit Counseling: If you or someone you know is having trouble paying bills, reach out to ClearPoint, a national, nonprofit credit counseling agency at 800-251-2227 (866-559-8198 for Spanish) or visit ClearPoint's website.
For more information about each of these programs or help managing natural gas costs, visit chattanoogagas.com.
Additionally, Tennessee American Water will begin the restoration of service to previously shut-off customers, according to a news release. If your service has been turned off, prior to March 12, the company will restart your service.
The company will monitor situational updates provided by the Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University as well as other state and federal organizations.
Tennessee American Water will also be suspending all non-essential field appointments and will limit the amount and nature of contact with customers during all emergency field appointments.