Virginia Beach, Va. – March 29, 2021 – As the nation surpasses the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families and businesses are still dealing with financial hardships that have dramatically impacted their source of income and ability to pay bills. Throughout the year, Virginia Natural Gas has been fully committed to making a positive impact and help families connect to available energy assistance funding.
For some, decisions had to be made whether to pay utility bills or rent, buy groceries, or even close a business.
Like Michelle from Yorktown, Virginia, who had to sell personal items just to pay bills and provide food for her children while her rent went up $300 a month.
Or Gwen from Hampton, Virginia, who was out of work due to being exposed to the coronavirus numerous times while cleaning hospital rooms and got behind in her bills.
But with a special financial-assistance grant, Virginia Natural Gas was able to connect Michelle, Gwen and nearly 12,000 residential and business customers to funds to help pay down, or in some cases pay off, their past-due energy bills.
Through Phase I of the Coronavirus Relief Fund, Virginia Natural Gas connected customers to $2.8 million in financial assistance. The funds were part of a $4.4 million grant through the Virginia State Corporation Commission as part of the CARES Act to help customers across Virginia minimize the financial impact of COVID-19.
“Over the last year, many of our residential and business customers who have never needed help before paying their bills took a financial hit due to COVID-19,” said VNG President Robert Duvall. “The Coronavirus Relief Fund added the necessary financial infusion to help provide emergency funding to those customers who qualified.”
More than 32,000 VNG residential and business customers were identified with past-due accounts incurred as a result of the pandemic between March 1 through Oct. 31, 2020.
Once the energy company became aware of the new grant assistance program, plans were put in place to notify customers of their eligibility status and the application process – all in order to connect as many individuals, families and businesses as possible to the assistance they needed.
“We were very diligent and went to great lengths to make customers aware of the program and their eligibility,” said Shepelle Watkins-White, director of regulatory affairs at VNG. “We wanted to make sure we were meeting the needs of our customers, whether a residential customer or business, and remain committed to helping those who are struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
To bring awareness to the program, VNG deployed a targeted communication campaign to notify each eligible customer of the funds available that could help them overcome their past-due accounts. Customer service representatives were also available to answer any questions about the application process.
During Phase I of the program, 11,634 customers were approved for the grant that did not need to be repaid. While arrearage amounts varied, residential customers received an average grant of $226 and qualifying businesses received an average of $582.
According to customers who received the grants, the application process was easy, and they felt valued by how the company connected them to the financial assistance during a difficult time.
“Thank you, Virginia Natural Gas,” said Pamela from Norfolk, Virginia. “I am truly grateful and blessed. I didn’t know how I was going to pay my gas bill. I’m crying tears of joy and relief thanks to your Coronavirus Relief Fund package.”
As Virginians work to recover from the pandemic, VNG is developing a Phase 2 of Coronavirus Relief Fund program that will launch this summer to help even more customers get through these tough times.
Customers who are facing financial difficulties and having trouble paying their energy bills are encouraged to check the VNG website periodically for updates on the next phase of this program.
Virginia Natural Gas is one of four natural gas distribution companies of Southern Company Gas, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO). Virginia Natural Gas provides clean, safe, reliable and affordable natural gas service to more than 300,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in southeast Virginia. Consistently ranked in the top quartile for customer satisfaction by J.D. Power and Associates, the company also has been recognized by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Virginia Oil and Gas Association for its safety, innovation, environmental stewardship, community outreach and educational programs, and has been named Local Distribution Company of the year four times since 2015. The company has been ranked by its business customers as one of the most Trusted Business Partners in the utility industry according to Cogent Reports, and as one of the Top Workplaces in Hampton Roads by Inside Business. For more information, visit virginianaturalgas.com and connect with the company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Southern Company (NYSE: SO) is a leading energy company serving 9 million customers through its subsidiaries. The company provides clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy through electric operating companies in three states, natural gas distribution companies in four states, a competitive generation company serving wholesale customers across America, a leading distributed energy infrastructure company, a fiber optics network and telecommunications services. Southern Company brands are known for excellent customer service, high reliability and affordable prices below the national average. For more than a century, we have been building the future of energy and developing the full portfolio of energy resources, including carbon-free nuclear, advanced carbon capture technologies, natural gas, renewables, energy efficiency and storage technology. Through an industry-leading commitment to innovation and a low-carbon future, Southern Company and its subsidiaries develop the customized energy solutions our customers and communities require to drive growth and prosperity. Our uncompromising values.