Gov. Roy Cooper discusses his COVID-19 policies during a press conference earlier this year. Screen grab from UNC-TV

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Utilities are not allowed to disconnect service for nonpayment or charge late fees, penalties, interest or reconnection fees for residential service in North Carolina for the next 60 days, under an executive order that Gov. Roy Cooper signed on Tuesday.

It is the latest in a slew of changes to daily lives due to the new coronavirus and its effect on society throughout the world.

Before the order expires, he said, “We will be able to reevaluate where we are in the arc of this pandemic.”

The order applies to all utilities that provide electrical, natural gas, water or wastewater service to residences across the state.

Once the order is lifted, utilities will allow people to take up to six months to pay off those bills without penalty.

[The latest: North Carolina coronavirus daily updates]

In the past two weeks, more than 300,000 North Carolinians have filed for unemployment benefits, with many others simply unable to file because the phone lines were clogged or the website didn’t work.

Although the requirements for utilities aren’t optional, much of the executive order is a request but not a mandate:

  • It asks telecommunications and internet companies to adopt the same practices.
  • The order encourages utility companies to reconnect any service that had been disconnected for nonpayment and waive all reconnection fees and penalties.
  • The order asks banks and financial companies to waive overdraft fees and ATM fees, and increase credit limits and ATM daily withdrawal limits. In 2017, large banks made more than $11.45 billion off overdraft or insufficient funds fees alone, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.
  • The order also asks mortgage servicers to postpone loan payments for those unable to pay for at least 180 days, waive late fees and postpone foreclosures and evictions for at least 90 days.

While property owners can still file eviction proceedings remotely, there have been no hearings for several weeks as the state’s courthouses have closed for all but essential business.

“There should be no new eviction proceedings until the (earlier) orders expire,” the new order says. That would be, at the earliest, April 17 unless extended by Chief Justice Cheri Beasley.

“Now is not the time for people to be crowded into temporary quarters,” said N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

The state is also mobilizing more National Guard troops to aid in site selection for field hospitals, Cooper said. So far 180 troops have been conscripted from the National Guard, of which some have been helping move medical supplies, according to the governor.

The state is also asking retired or former doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to volunteer to serve in the coming months as COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, lingers.

Mike Sprayberry, director of the N.C. Division of Emergency Management, said more than 1,200 people with medical credentials have registered to volunteer at the state’s website, terms.ncem.org.

He 600 said retired or former doctors, nurses and other medical professionals have been approved to serve in the coming weeks and months.

Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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