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Utility shutoffs resume in Florida: Here’s where to turn for help

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Right now, hundreds of people across Tampa Bay are desperately in need of help to keep their utilities from getting shut off.The phones haven’t stopped ringing at the Pinellas County Urban League where many people are calling because they need help and don’t have anywhere else to turn.Watson L Haynes, the president of the Pinellas County Urban League says they’re now offering up to $2,000 in assistance for those in need. “People are about to be evicted, they have no jobs. All those things are happening now so what we are doing is not only working with them on utilities but we’re trying to find them jobs also,” he explained.Local non-profits like the Urban League and the Pinellas Opportunity Council tell ABC Action News they’ve never had so many applications from people needing assistance.“Pre-COVID, our average calls to our offices were 150 calls a week and now we’re averaging about 400 calls a week,” Amber Bridges, the Community Programs Manager at the Pinellas Opportunity Council explained.Most people are now needing utility assistance as their bills skyrocket.Back in March, many local power companies halted utility shut-offs. However, a few weeks ago, the moratorium ended, which left a lot of people at risk of losing their electricity and non-profits strapped as they try to help hundreds.“We ended up getting CARES money to help more people but still we won’t be able to help everyone. There’s just too many people in need,” Bridges added.ABC Action News checked in with all of our local power companies including TECO and Duke Energy and they say they’re willing to work with people to set up payment plans to avoid a utility shut off.Ana Gibbs, the spokesperson for Duke Energy says all people have to do is call. “That’s all we’re asking them to do. We don’t want them to be intimidated and feel overwhelmed by whatever situation they’re in,” she said. “Our goal is not to disconnect anybody but connect them with the right financial assistance.”You can also apply for local assistance through the county you live in or by calling 2-1-1.“We want people to know that we are here to help them,” Haynes elaborated.Tuesday, the Florida Public Utilities Commission is also expected to discuss a petition started by EarthJustice, which seeks to stop electricity shutoffs statewide.

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