Columbia Gas to assist Springfield area residents affected by shutdown

As the partial government shutdown nears the two month mark, fiscal hardships are starting to weigh heavy on the approximate 800,000 furloughed workers that are not getting paid, including some who are working without pay. But Clark and Champaign county residents affected by the shutdown may get some help with their utility bills.

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Dan Creekmur, president and COO of Columbia Gas, issued a statement this week saying the company is waiving late payment fees and offering extended payment arrangements for government employees directly affected by the shutdown.

“We know this may be a challenging time for some of our customers, especially those affected by the federal government shutdown,” he said. “We would like to offer payment solutions and reduce some of the stress during this already difficult time.”

Affected government employees should contact Columbia Gas at 1 (800) 344-4077 to seek help with their bill.

Ohio Edison/First Energy does not have a specific plan in place for furloughed workers according to a company spokesman, but does have several assistance programs available for those dealing with fiscal hardships.

Springfield Community Information Coordinator Valerie Lough said at this time, the city does not have any programs in place to assist utility (water and sewer) customers that are federal employees who may be impacted by the government shutdown.

“We understand that our customers can sometimes face adverse circumstances, and we do all we can to work with each customer to ensure no interruption of service while keeping their account as current as possible,” Lough said.

The city already has a plan in place to work with customers who are undergoing fiscal challenges.

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“We always encourage customers to reach out to the Utility Billing Department when budgets tighten and making payments become a challenge,” Lough said. “In those cases, we offer payment plans and due date extensions to customers who qualify, and we also refer customers to local charities and assistance programs that may help them meet their needs.”

The shutdown comes over the failure of Congress to pass spending bills to fund the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development and as President Donald Trump demands more than $5 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management tweeted during the shutdown that employees should consult a "personal attorney" for legal advice, but it included a document of sample letters to help government employees negotiate with creditors, landlords and mortgage companies during the furlough.

Ohio ranked 42nd most affected state during this partial shutdown. More than 400 federal employees in the Dayton region have been affected by the shutdown, but it’s had little impact on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — the largest single-site employer in the state.

MORE: Shutdown means local food banks to pay thousands for food storage

Local food banks are bracing for an increase in demand while paying thousands of dollars in storage costs typically covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In Springfield, up to $200,000 a year is paid for food storage costs, which amounts to 25 to 30 percent of the monthly budget for Second Harvest Food Bank, executive director Tyra Jackson said.

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