By: Sara Shonrock
As social distancing becomes a normal way of life, local governments are struggling with the immediate shutdown of all “non-essential” services and the likely economic impact resulting from job losses of residents.
As a city government, there are still essential services that are needed during this time including electric, gas, and sewer and water. These services, especially water and sewer, are most often provided by the municipal government and in the face of an unsure landscape for citizens, many cities are shifting the way they do business to meet the needs of their residents.
Unpaid utility bills are usually charged a late fee, and in most cities, subject to a shutoff notice. For many cities, this is the only way to continue to provide these services on a tight budget. COVID-19 has changed the way that we view such services and the way that we can deliver them as well.
On March 13, 2020 the Iowa Utilities Board issued an emergency order directing all electric and natural gas utilities in the state to cease disconnection of residential service due to nonpayment. The IUB on March 19, 2020 urged all utilities to refrain from utility service shutoffs, especially water service, during the coronavirus outbreak and supports the IDHR to extend the LIHEAP application period to May 31. While electric and gas are often required to stay on during the winter months, the order extends the moratorium on shut-offs to May 1, 2020. The emergency order gives information as to gas and electric specifically but does state that water should also not be shut off during this time.
Many city utility services are funded strictly by payments for use from residents. The guidelines for shutoffs often come after one month of missed payment to try and prevent a large bill that will likely not be paid. Cities often charge a late fee a few days after the bill due date goes unpaid. Often after a two-week period, cities will then choose to put a door hanger alerting the resident that they are going to be shut off.
Cities that choose to keep water on during this time have a few options.
- The first is to continue to charge late fees. In this way, they may still collect additional monies while trying to assist residents with staying connected in an unsure time.
- The city can choose to try and work with residents and landlords. Landlords whose renters are not paying their utility bills may begin to receive the bills for the rental property.
- The city can choose to continue to use the door hanger method and decide whether or not to charge late fees.
While many cities may choose to not disconnect utilities during this time, there will still be options for recourse after the fact with the continuation of late fees. Cities will continue to have recourse to property liens for unpaid fees and bills when recovery does occur.
By: Jon Wolseth
The economic and social uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the situation of homeowners already finding themselves in straitened financial circumstances. For those households in the midst of foreclosure proceedings, the fear of losing one’s home during the public health crisis compounds an already difficult situation. Recent steps have been taken at the state and federal levels to provide homeowners in the midst of foreclosure with some relief.
Bank foreclosure proceedings are being suspended in Iowa, an action taken in a recent (March 22, 2020) State Public Health Emergency Declaration from Governor Reynolds. Section 2 of the declaration reads:
SUSPENSION OF FORECLOSURES
SECTION TWO. Pursuant to Iowa Code §§ 29C.6(6) and 135.144(3), and in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health, I temporarily suspend the regulatory provisions of Iowa Code chapters 646, 654, 655A, and 656 allowing for the commencement of foreclosure proceedings, or the prosecution of ongoing foreclosure proceedings, on residential, commercial, and agricultural real property located in the state of Iowa. Suspension of these provisions shall apply during the duration of this Proclamation or any future extension of this suspension.
A. Nothing in this section shall be construed as relieving any individual of their obligation to make mortgage payments, or to comply with any other obligation that an individual may have under a mortgage.
B. The Iowa Division of Banking and the Iowa Division of Credit Unions are hereby directed to immediately engage with banks, credit unions, mortgage bankers, and mortgage services to identify any tools, means, or methods that could be used to relieve Iowans from the threat of foreclosure.
In particular, this action provides relief for homeowners who may have been at risk of foreclosure in the midst of the public health emergency. Affected homeowners are encouraged to proactively reach out to their mortgage lenders to pause proceedings.
At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a 60-day moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for FHA-insured single family homeowners. The moratorium began March 18, 2020. Read the full text of the press release.
U.S. Government-sponsored mortgage enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have also released plans of assistance for their lendees whose ability to make mortgage payments is impacted by the COVID-19.
We just wanted to share this resource list posted by the Buchanan County Economic Development Commission. This is a great example of what a local community can do to streamline access to resources available to businesses. Check their page out for more information we have also reposted their links below for ease of access. Let us know in the comments if you have any additional resources to share.
Business and Industry Resources and Information Relevant to COVID-19
The COVID-19 (Corona Virus) has drastically impacted our personal lives as well as businesses and industries throughout Buchanan County, the state, the nation and the world. We at Buchanan County Economic Development want to provide you relevant links to assist businesses and industries with the most relevant information available. Below you will find links that we hope can answer your questions and help to guide you through this unprecedented time.
Links to relevant sites and articles:
Links to Iowa Department of Health and COVID-19 update sites
Information and Legislation From Gov. Reynolds Concerning COVID-19
By: Erin Mullenix
In uncertain economic times, city budgets are undoubtedly a challenge. These times of pandemic and economic decline can add inherent volatility and uncertainty to the local budget.
Fortunately, the State of Iowa’s Department of Management has granted extensions to city budget filing deadlines for all cities. City budgets are now due April 30, 2020, unless the city has received individual correspondence with a later date specified. Each city should have been emailed by the Iowa Department of Management with additional details. If no such email was received, contact the Iowa Department of Management. Click here to view the memo from the Iowa Department of Management.
In addition to the change in budget deadline, cities should keep in mind the new budget requirements enacted last year during the 2018-2019 legislative session. Those changes include the addition of a second public hearing process related to new public reporting requirements. Visit the Iowa Department of Management, or Iowa League of Cities websites for more information.
Remember that Iowa State University Extension’s Office of Community and Economic Development has a number of helpful budget resources available to you. Visit the Iowa Government Finance Initiative (IGFI) and Indicators Portal websites for a host of local government resources, including custom Annual Fiscal Conditions reports for each city and county.
By: Abigail Gaffey
Many parents are suddenly finding themselves responsible for their children’s education at home. For most of us this is an inconvenience, but for low-resource populations it can be an impossibility. Rental property managers, particularly of apartment complexes housing families, can help by checking on the internet needs of their tenants.
Large apartment complexes, both market rate and government-assisted units, often have publicly-available wi-fi in a shared community room, but the need for social distancing may make using it an unsanitary prospect whether through congregating in one spot or touching a shared computer. A better temporary solution may be to share the internet password for the next couple of months. Another possibility would be to purchase a mobile hot spot for each floor of the building.
Some will argue that not everyone will use the wi-fi responsibly and certainly that is true, but in the interim the need for students to continue their educations, the surge in tele-health appointments that will keep people out of doctor’s offices and non-emergency hospital visits, the need for people to file for Unemployment benefits online, and shifting as many people as possible to paying bills online rather than in-person may outweigh the possibility that someone might watch a few too many YouTube videos.
If providing wi-fi is completely beyond the landlord’s budget, at a minimum landlords can let their tenants know about low-cost internet services. Several Iowa telecom companies are offering reduced-price internet start-up packages to new customers. In central Iowa, Mediacom offers the Connect2Compete package that offers high-speed internet packages for as low as $10 per month: https://mediacomcable.com/about/news/mediacom-brings-internet-access-to-low-income-students/ The same Connect2Compete program is also available to Iowans served by Cox Cable: https://newsroom.cox.com/cox_internet_changes_to_assist_students_-_remote_workers Iowans with Sparklight (formerly CableOne) are being directed to Spectrum Charter which is making 60 days of internet service free to households with student. However, it isn’t available in all zip codes in Iowa, so potential customers will need to check on available for their location: https://home.sparklight.com/news/read/category/news/article/variety-charter_offers_free_broadband_to_all_households_wi-rpenskemc
In the coming days, we may see even more companies and rural telecom providers coming up with solutions that help not just students, but also folks now working from home. An example of an innovative solution is Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company. NNTC has set up a free pandemic wi-fi. Customers can drive up to within 100 feet of one of 22 locations to connect. A mobile hotspot extender can also be used to pick up the signal farther away: https://nntc.net/nntc-response-to-covid-19-coronavirus/
One last idea property managers can explore with their tenants is working with the local school district if a tenant family is struggling with internet connectivity for their young students. These interactions may also help a property manager identify a family in crisis needing other social supports at this tenuous time.
We are adjusting our services here in CED to continue to provide education and support while maintaining social distancing for the health and safety of our staff, participants, volunteers, and communities.
We are going to use this blog to post information and resources for our Iowa communities including businesses, local governments, and other community groups.
The Housing Assistance Council has compiled a list of Resources Related to Coronavirus and Rural Housing:
A few resources for Small Businesses:
The Small Business Administration is offering loans to small businesses and nonprofits who have been impacted by COVID-19. Businesses and nonprofits can receive up to $2 million in a low-interest loan. For more information visit https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/coronavirus-covid-19
Upon request from the Governor, the Small Business Administration will under its own authority issue an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Declaration. The Restaurant Workers Relief Foundation has created as COVID19 relief fund for workers impacted by COVID19 information can be found here: https://www.restaurantworkerscf.org/news/2020/3/15/resources-for-restaurants-and-workers-coping-with-the-covid-19-emergency
The ONE fair wage has created a restaurant worker and tip worker fund as well and information on that can be found here: https://ofwemergencyfund.org/
Information and eligibility requirements for a Bartender Emergency Program can be found here:https://www.usbgfoundation.org/beap?fbclid=IwAR3p9y-eXg1bhTGGL-snMh4XS6S4ydHxbu-mSTjYNMtDGrTiXsEvXIhT7KY
The National Restaurant Association has also compiled a list of resources and that can be found here:https://restaurant.org/Covid19