Furloughed federal workers get utility help

Furloughed workers struggle to pay bills

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The partial government shutdown has now passed its 25th day, the longest ever.

It is bumping up against the 30-day billing cycle for most utilities including water, electricity and gas. It means for many workers, who have been struggling with paying for mortgage, medical and food, they can add utilities to the list.

Robert Clark has been working for the Census Bureau for the past ten years, was part of the 21-day, 2013 furlough, but says this one is different.

“No one knows when it might end,” he said. “No one expected it to last this long.”

He lives in a one bedroom apartment, but still faces an electric bill which, even in winter, approaches $100 a month.

So these days he is “trying to reduce my energy use, run the lights less, heater less.”

When it gets a bit chilly he says “I put on a long sleeve shirt and a sweater.”

Clark says he’s spending “less on everything” but says with utilities “there’s not really much I can do there.”

But there is something all furloughed workers can do thanks to Tucson Electric Power.

“We’re willing to work with them,” said Joe Barrios, a spokesman for the utility. "We can make special arrangements throughout the duration of the shutdown.”

According to Barrios, those who are facing a utility bill they can’t pay or if they are already in arrears, they can postpone payments. The number to call is (520)623-7711.

“If this does last a long time,” Barrios said, “We’re willing to extend those bill deadlines for as long as necessary to help them out.”

The same goes for Tucson Water which has a 21-day extension period for anyone who has a hard time making a payment.

In an email that the water utility sent to the Tucson Mayor and Council, it stated “if the request for payment extension is due to the federal government shutdown, the customer can also include any federal government correspondence that asks for leniency or flexibility in meeting payment obligations.”

That could include going beyond the 21-day extension.

“We’re prepared for that, for situations that would extend beyond 21 days,” said Fernando Molina, a spokesman for Tucson Water. “It would be on a case by case basis, particularly for federal employees.”

The Census Bureau has sent out form letters to its workers telling them to use the forms if they are facing hardship and need help from creditors.

“It’s asking for their understanding,” said Clark. “If I need to, I will definitely use that.”

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