COVID-19, News

Gov. Cooper bars utility shutoffs for 60 days

Gov. Roy Cooper’s office issued Executive Order No. 124 this afternoon, barring utility shutoffs in North Carolina for 60 days.

The following statement was issued late this afternoon:

Governor Cooper Signs Executive Order to Prohibit Utility Disconnections in the Wake of COVID-19 

RALEIGH: Governor Roy Cooper today announced another step to help families by prohibiting utilities from disconnecting people who are unable to pay during this pandemic. Today’s Order applies to electric, gas, water and wastewater services for the next 60 days.

The Order directs utilities to give residential customers at least six months to pay outstanding bills and prohibits them from collecting fees, penalties or interest for late payment.

Telecommunication companies that provide phone, cable and internet services are strongly urged to follow these same rules.

“This action is particularly important since tomorrow is the first of the month, and I know that’s a date many families fear when they can’t make ends meet,” said Governor Cooper. “These protections will help families stay in their homes and keep vital services like electricity, water, and communications going as we Stay at Home.”

Additionally, the Order encourages banks not to charge customers for overdraft fees, late fees and other penalties. Landlords are strongly encouraged in the Order to follow the spirit of Chief Justice Cheri Beasley’s Order and delay any evictions that are already entered in the court system.

Governor Cooper was joined by Attorney General Josh Stein to announce the order and he thanked companies that have already voluntarily announced policies to prevent shutoffs, including Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, AT&T, and local electric co-ops, among many others. Today’s Order follows the Governor’s Stay At Home order, which is in effect until April 29.

The Council of State concurred with the Order today.

Read the full Order here.

Read an FAQ about the Order here.

The NC Department of Revenue also announced expanded tax relief measures today, waiving penalties for late filing or payments of multiple state tax categories. Learn more about this tax relief here.

Make sure the information you are getting about COVID-19 is coming directly from reliable sources like the CDC and NCDHHS. For more information, please visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus and NCDHHS’ website at www.ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus, which includes daily updates on positive COVID-19 test results in North Carolina.

COVID-19

Restaurant, hotel businesses in free fall due to COVID-19 restrictions

Lynn Minges of the NC Restaurant and Lodging Association (Photo: NCRLA)

Nearly 400,000 jobs have been lost in North Carolina’s restaurant and hotel industries because of the COVID-19 pandemic, industry advocates told state lawmakers Tuesday.

The halting of most travel and closing of dine-in service at restaurants has devastated the state’s approximately 18,000 restaurants and 1,800 hotels, said Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association. Businesses are asking for help from state lawmakers as they wait for federal emergency relief funds  and the Golden LEAF Foundation is offering bridge loans

In a presentation to the N.C. House Select Committee on COVID-19’s Economic Support working group, Minges said many restaurants closed entirely after March 17, when dine-in service ended to ensure proper social distancing. Those that remain open are “essentially on life support,” she said.

“Many of those restaurants are limping along, on limited capacity serving only though drive-through, carry out and delivery,” Minges said. “But that is really not a sustainable model for them to be able to maintain for very long.”

The abrupt closure left little time for most restaurants to plan, Minges said. Owners are cash-strapped as their businesses’ incomes have dropped to a fraction of pre-pandemic levels; they are being forced to lay off employees for whom they don’t have enough work, she said. Many are making their existing payroll through credit cards.

Hotels are also beginning to see an enormous impact as business and leisure travel, concerts and conventions and other major drivers of the industry have stopped.

Source: NC Restaurant and Lodging Association

 

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Commentary, COVID-19

NC Attorney General takes welcome action to ease financial pressure on struggling households

Attorney General Stein

In case you missed it, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein took some welcome actions late last week to help ease some of the financial pressures afflicting households across the state.

In a news release, Stein announced that he has suspended “all of the North Carolina Department of Justice’s collections efforts of state debts effective immediately and until further notice.”

In addition, the A.G. issued a request to “all local and municipal utilities to commit to maintaining access to water, power, gas, and other vital services for residents.”

As Stein noted in his statement:

“North Carolinians who are struggling with their health, have been laid off from their job, or are facing cuts to their income in the wake of COVID-19 should not have to bear additional burdens that will further harm their health or their finances.”

The A.G. is on the mark. The last thing people need in the current environment is to face lawsuits and losses of essential services due to debts the crisis has made it impossible to pay back for the time being.

Let’s hope Stein’s action helps spur similar action by other governmental and private entities (e.g. landlords, loan companies) in the days and weeks ahead.

COVID-19, News

UNC System to reimburse students for unused dining, housing due to pandemic

The UNC System will reimburse students for unused housing and dining services, after universities shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interim UNC System President Bill Roper announced the move Monday, when the UNC Board of Governors held a special session via teleconference.

“It is our commitment to all UNC System students and parents to get this done as quickly as possible,” Roper said. “It is also our obligation to get this done right. We hope to be able to announce specifics for processing and issuing refunds in the upcoming weeks.”

The reimbursements will be prorated, according to UNC System officials, refunding students for unused dining and time when campus housing was unavailable.

The UNC System has about 80,000 students living on the campuses of its 17 schools. The university stepped up efforts to get students out of the dorms earlier this month, requiring students who have no other housing or dining options to get approval from the school to stay. The move reduced the overall on-campus population by 90%, making proper social distancing procedures  easier.

Commentary, COVID-19

Experts: Health pandemic exposes failure to expand Medicaid, reliance on employer-provided insurance

In case you missed it, there was a fine story on NBC News last week that highlighted North Carolina’s failure to expand Medicaid, and the huge and unnecessary problems it was causing for uninsured people even before the coronavirus pandemic.

Among other things, “Coronavirus challenges states that rejected Medicaid expansion, leaves uninsured with few options” tells the sobering story of a family physician who practices in Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s district confronting the crisis.

William Luking, a doctor in rural North Carolina who runs a clinic with his brother about 25 miles north of Greensboro, said he treated one of his regular patients last week who had a dry, hacking cough and trouble breathing. The longtime patient turned scarlet when Luking said he should go to the hospital.

Amid wheezing and a severe fever, Luking’s patient said he couldn’t afford that kind of care. He didn’t have insurance.

“How many folks with this virus are going to be making the same decision?” Luking asked, noting that Medicaid expansion would have provided his patient hospital access. “That same scenario will play itself out here real quickly with folks soldiering on doing their minimum wage work while carrying the virus without seeking care. It has all the makings of a disaster.”

Luking and doctors like him have gone to great lengths to treat their patients and made personal sacrifices because, as he said, “We’re not going to fold up shop now.”

But there’s a risk that they may have to. Luking said because he will mostly have to move to doctor’s visits over the phone, he will see fewer reimbursements and payments and a greater number of uninsured patients. He’s prepared to zero-out his own salary but fears he may soon have to lay off members of his staff to keep his facility afloat.

Meanwhile, in today’s Washington Post, Prof. Jonathan Gruber of MIT lays out three steps the U.S. must take to care for the huge surge in uninsured sick people that’s coming — both as a result of the failure to expand Medicaid in states like North Carolina and the huge number of people who are becoming uninsured through job losses. Here’s the conclusion:

First, we should suspend insurance network restrictions for covid-19 patients. Patients should be able to go to the provider that is best for them, and for the community, regardless of network restrictions. Read more