Local government and utility and banking sectors today provided an update on the community’s response to COVID-19 and resources that are available to the public.
Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, Allen County Commissioners Rich Beck, Therese Brown, and Nelson Peters were joined in-person by representatives from City Utilities and STAR Financial Bank.
Earlier this month, City Utilities suspended utility service disconnects for non-payment. In the field, during this crisis, City Utilities has suspended meter change-outs, including previously scheduled appointments, except in emergencies. It is important for customers who are not able to pay or pay their full amount to contact customer service about their situation and work out a payment plan. Customers can use the kiosk located outside of Citizens Square and off of the parking lot at 200 East Berry St. to make payments or call customer service to discuss an account.
NIPSCO recently announced that it has voluntarily suspended shutoffs for nonpayment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This suspension applies to residential, commercial and industrial customers and will remain in effect until further notice. In addition, NIPSCO is offering its most flexible payment plans to customers who indicate either an impact or hardship as a result of COVID-19 and will suspend late payment charges until May 1. NIPSCO will continue to monitor current events and support our customers and communities. Meanwhile, NIPSCO continues to make the necessary adjustments to ensure the health and safety of its workforce in order to maintain reliable energy service for customers and the ability to respond to emergency events, should they occur. For further assistance, please call customer care at 1-800-4-NIPSCO or visit NIPSCO.com. In addition, the NiSource Charitable Foundation, the charitable foundation supported by NIPSCO’s parent company NiSource Inc., announced that it has committed $400,000 to the American Red Cross in Indiana as part of its overall $1 million donation to help provide COVID-19 relief support across the company’s seven-state service territory. The dollars are intended to support the delivery of care and comfort to local communities in need as a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Indiana Michigan Power
I&M does not anticipate any interruptions in our service related to the coronavirus. I&M’s No. 1 focus is on the health and safety of our customers and employees as teams continue to work to keep the lights on 24/7. Recognizing the need for Personal Protection Equipment in communities we serve, I&M is donating 10,000 masks and 10,000 individual nitrile gloves from our inventory to health-care workers and first responders throughout the areas we serve in Indiana and Michigan. The mask is the much-needed N95 mask, and the gloves are nitrile gloves, made from a synthetic rubber. Additionally, the American Electric Power Foundation is donating $1.5 million in emergency funds to support basic human needs and help address the hardships faced by customers and communities. Of that, $240,000 will be distributed to appropriate non-profit agencies in the I&M service territory. Because we know that many of our customers are facing unusual financial hardships, we have temporarily suspended all service disconnections for non-payment. All customers will ultimately be responsible for paying their bill, and we urge them to try to keep their accounts current. If a customer is going to have trouble paying their bill, please contact us by phone at: 1-800-311-4634 or through Facebook or Twitter to discuss payment options.
STAR Financial Bank is working to provide short term loan relief options for retail customers if needed. Additionally, in collaboration with the Small Business Administration, STAR is looking to facilitate several assistance programs to commercial and small business clients. STAR drive-up video banking remains available at all locations from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and STAR mobile and online banking are available 24/7 to all customers. STAR lobbies continue to maintain “special designated hours” by appointment only that can be set up through a Customer Service line. As a member of the FDIC, STAR is committed to keeping client funds secure and accessible. As a community bank, STAR remains available to help the community.
Residents are encouraged to check with their respective bank to see what services and help may be available.
“I’m encouraged that our utility and banking partners understand the significance of this pandemic and are responding accordingly. It’s vital for us to help meet the challenges that individuals, families, and businesses are experiencing,” said Mayor Henry. “By working together, we’ll get through this and be a stronger and more united community.”
“We hope our residents find the information we are providing valuable and helpful. Uncertainty in times like these often leads to anxiety, stress and tension. By directing our citizens to these resources which can provide assistance, we hope to reduce that uncertainty and stress so that we can all pull through this together,” said the Allen County Board of Commissioners.
With more cases of COVID-19 being confirmed in Allen County, leaders again stressed the importance of practicing social distancing, washing hands thoroughly and regularly, and limiting activities in group settings. The public is reminded to be vigilant and use good judgment as a result of Governor Holcomb’s stay-at-home order.
-Officials today also encouraged healthy residents to donate blood, if possible, through their local American Red Cross location.
-For residential customers served by the Allen County Regional Water and Sewer District, the Allen County Board of Commissioners is providing a grant to the district to offer residential ratepayers a one-time, 50% credit on an upcoming residential sewer bill.
-The public is encouraged to visit www.cityoffortwayne.org/covid-19 where a community resource page has been created that contains information about COVID-19, local government responses and other organizations that serve the public and how collectively there is help available to those who may need assistance.
-Citizens Square will remain closed to the public through at least April 6.
-Leaders also shared the results of the Community Readiness Survey used to gather information from 4,967 individuals March 12-March 24. The survey was created to assess how prepared northeast Indiana is to endure the COVID-19 epidemic.
Forty-four percent of survey respondents reported they could only sustain their households for 1 – 2 weeks if they stopped getting paid, with 25% able to sustain their households for 3 – 4 weeks and 31% able to sustain their households for 5 or more weeks. Besides having significantly more chronic disease in the household, those same 44% who will be challenged in 1 – 2 weeks are:
• Significantly more concerned about paying for prescription medication, accessing healthcare and finding/purchasing food.
• Significantly more likely to seek support from government for healthcare (29%), utilities (27%), and food/water (22%).
• Significantly more worried about purchasing prescription medications in the next 60 days for mental health (47%), blood pressure (38%) and diabetes (19%).
• Significantly less likely to have an established healthcare provider, health insurance and the entire household vaccinated for influenza.
Food (98%) and shelter (85%) were the highest ranked basic needs from all respondents, with medicine (72%), healthcare (68%), connection with people (67%) and cell phone (66%) following not too far behind.
The survey was prepared by the Parkview Mirror Center for Research and Innovation who cautioned that there were limitations to the survey due to an uneven sample size across zip codes and biased sample toward higher income based on zip codes and insurance status. The answers provided by survey respondents are being used by the Allen County Department of Health and other partners to identify needs within the community.