Minnesota Power will begin sending disconnection notices next month to customers behind on their bills, citing a return to normal operations as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted.
Those notices will give residents 60 days to set up a payment plan with the utility company before service is disconnected in August.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission recently approved Minnesota Power’s timeline to resume disconnections for nonpayments. The utility suspended them last April amid a wave of COVID-19 executive orders that closed a number of businesses and limited activities of residents, causing financial hardships and spiking unemployment rates across Minnesota and the U.S.
Minnesota Power said in a press release this week that late payment charges on past-due balances and reconnection fees will also be waived through April 30, 2022, for residential and business customers that set up and keep current on a payment plan.
“We want to make sure customers have enough time to connect with available resources, explore options for managing their bill, and have a plan in place to avoid any disruption of service,” said Tina Koecher, manager of Customer Experience Operations for the company. “Disconnection for customers who have past-due balances has always been a last resort.”
Customers can set up a payment plan by calling 800-228-4966.
While Minnesota Power is set to move toward disconnections, some protections remain in place for residents financially impacted by the pandemic. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz last month extended the peacetime emergency put in place last year through at least May 14, keeping intact an executive order that suspended evictions and landlord-initiated lease terminations.
Walz is expected to announce loosened restrictions today that could reopen a number of summer activities and expand capacity limits, citing progress in the state’s fight against COVID-19 and its current vaccination campaign success.
It’s unclear if the governor will extend his peacetime emergency powers for another month, with Republican leaders in the Legislature calling for an outright end to the emergency designation or a clear timeline for Walz to opt out of his power.
The governor has said some type of continuation of executive powers is needed to ensure special federal aid around nutrition programs continues and that vaccination and testing sites can be managed nimbly.
Minnesota Department of Health officials reported 1,267 new coronavirus infections Wednesday and 17 additional deaths. Of those new cases, 25 were registered in St. Louis County.
MPR News contributed to this report.