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Rising number of power shut-offs adds to stress, mental health concerns

By David Pendered

The rising number of power disconnects and accounts past due in Georgia is a reality check as a new survey shows financial stress is a serious threat to the nation’s mental health.

Georgia power boxes, salvador dali

Salvador Dali’s iconic face may speak to the surrealism of some electrical bills. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Georgia Power ended its temporary suspension of customer disconnects on July 15. The state’s largest provider of electricity had waived suspensions in the early stages of the pandemic and now advises customers to consider an installment payment plan if they struggle to pay their bill. The company serves about 2.6 million customers, including business and residential accounts.

The power shut-offs are a stark reminder of the Dec. 31 expiration of the temporary ban on evictions of renters imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s order, dated Sept. 4, contended its purpose was to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 by banning landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent. Georgia is among the states where the order is the subject of a lawsuit asking a federal judge to void the order.

Georgia Power provided the following information to the state’s utility commission, the Georgia Public Service Commission, in a public disclosure dated Oct. 15:

Georgia Power, the scream

Edvard Munch’s painting, ‘The Scream,’ is evoked in the portrayal of a woman cringing near a utility meter. Credit Kelly Jordan

  • Service was disconnected to 21,732 residential customers in September;
  • Service was restored to 13,213 residential customers in September following a disconnect for nonpayment.
  • An additional 33,817 residential accounts went past due in September, by 30 to 60 days. These newly delinquent accounts owe Georgia Power a total of $9.3 million. That’s an average of about $275 per customer;
  • A total of 378,446 residential accounts are past due. The company serves 2.3 million residential customers;
  • About 16 percent of the company’s residential accounts are at least 30 days past due. This rate has declined from nearly 20 percent in April, while the number of accounts has increased by about 20,000.

Meanwhile, a mental health crisis is growing in the U.S., according to results of the annual Stress in America survey released Oct. 20 by the American Psychological Association. APA has conducted the survey since 2007.

Financial stress is a major factor – 64 percent of respondents say money is a significant source of stress, and 52 percent say they have experienced negative financial impacts during the pandemic.

The report begins with the observation that stressors that existed before the pandemic continue. Compounding this stress from the pandemic. APA said it felt compelled to issue the following warning:

georgia power boxes, take a pill

Several solutions are suggested to cope with the bill that will result from the utility meter. Credit: Kelly Jordan

  • “We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come….
  • “The sheer magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis is hard to fathom. As of the published date of this report, the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic has topped 215,000 in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. This is more Americans than died in World War I (116,516 deaths1), the Vietnam War (58,2092), and the Korean War (36,5163) – combined.
  • “Behind this devastating loss of life is immense stress and trauma for friends and families of those who died; for those infected; for those who face long recoveries; and for all Americans whose lives have been thrown into chaos in countless ways, including job loss, financial distress, and uncertain futures for themselves and their nation.

Harris Poll conducted the survey on behalf of the APA from Aug. 4-26 of 3,409 adults aged at least 18 years, and of 1,026 teens aged 13-17 years. No sampling error was available because respondents agreed to participate.

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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