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Utilities, Phone Companies Working With Customers Struggling To Pay Bills During Pandemic

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Despite all the changes COVID-19 brings to daily life, one aspect will not change: paying bills.

But many companies are working with customers to cut costs and delay payments.

Utility providers like TXU Energy are waiving late fees, reducing down payments, and extending due dates for payments, while Atmos Energy  is suspending natural gas disconnections.

AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are postponing service termination for customers who cannot pay their bills.

T-Mobile is also providing unlimited data to all current customers who have plans with data for the next 60 days.

Additionally, Comcast is offering everyone free access to its hot spots for 60 days and unlimited data to its customers at no extra charge, on top of halting disconnections for customers who cannot pay.

For Dallas Water Utilities customers that have been financially impacted, a 30-day hold will be put on their account without service interruption.

Fort Worth Water Utilities is temporarily halting disconnections due to nonpayment "ensuring customers have continued access to potable water."

"The companies that are doing that should be commended," said Sandy Rollins, the executive director of the Texas Tenants' Union. "It's essential and necessary to do that."

As someone who lives paycheck to paycheck, Lindsey Howell said every bit of relief helps.

"The fact that the companies are going out of the way to do this is amazing," Howell said.

Like many renters, Howell knows what it means to worry.

"Will my bills be paid? Will my check come in? Will I still have a home?" said Howell, the mother of two daughters.

Howell's family previously avoided an eviction after her case was dismissed in Dallas County.

She now hopes others can meet the same fate.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, few counties have taken formal action to postpone evictions.

The Collin County Justice Court is accepting all civil cases including eviction cases, according to Judge Paul Raleeh, who is the presiding Justice of the Peace for precinct one.

"There are landlords who have people living on their properties who may not have paid rent, and that's not fair to landlords," said Judge Raleeh.

Tarrant County has yet to take formal action on suspending evictions.

An official in Denton County told CBS11 it is their belief most courts will postpone evictions for now.

Dallas County has cancelled all jury trials through May 8 in Justice of the Peace courts, where some eviction cases are head. But those cancellations do not cover all eviction hearings or proceedings.

A Dallas County spokeswoman says additional measures are currently being discussed.

"This is something people can't control if they lose their jobs, they can't pay the rent," Howell said.

The Justice of the Peace for precinct one in Denton County will suspend eviction cases, according to an employee in the precinct office, explaining they are accepting petitions but will not serve citations at this time.

The employee said she believes every justice of the peace in Denton County is doing the same.

Rollins said paying rent becomes even more difficult as hourly employees struggle to keep their jobs.

"I urge the policymakers to make the right decisions to stop evictions," Rollins said.

The group Texas New Era has started a petition urging all county and city leaders in Dallas to put a moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs.

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