By Laura Landreaux
It’s been one year since Entergy Arkansas joined with the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, community leaders and elected officials at the Arkansas State Capitol to announce our participation in the ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed) research report. Little did we know, COVID-19 would drastically impact our world as we knew it.
According to the recently updated ALICE in Arkansas report, 46% of households struggled to make ends meet in 2018 — and that was before the current public health emergency triggered by COVID-19. These ALICE Arkansans have incomes above the federal poverty line, yet they often struggle to afford daily necessities such as housing, childcare, food, transportation and healthcare.
Entergy Arkansas and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation helped produce the ALICE in Arkansas research, because we see the struggles first-hand and wanted to target long-lasting solutions.
Nearly three quarters of calls handled by our Entergy phone centers each year are from households that face some level of financial hardship. That’s why Entergy teams with community partners and organizations to invest in solutions that make a difference, as well as volunteer at programs that provide vital assistance to people like ALICE.
The pandemic hit our communities shortly after the ALICE research was announced last year, and this crisis has caused even further hardships for Arkansans.
As soon as the pandemic hit, Entergy Arkansas issued a moratorium on disconnects for nonpayment and implemented an Enhanced Customer Assistance Plan that provides customers with flexible options to extend time to pay their utility bills.
That moratorium and payment plan continues to this day, but as things slowly return to our “new normal,” disconnections for nonpayment will begin again. Meanwhile, we are working to make sure our customers can get assistance they need to recover.
The Power to Care utility assistance payment program has received a great deal of support by our customers this past year to help senior citizens and disabled customers pay their electric bills. Remarkably, with your help, we increased support for the program by $500,000, which allowed us to help more low-income older adults and people with disabilities. When customers contribute to The Power to Care via their monthly electric bill, Entergy shareholders match all gifts, dollar-for-dollar, up to $1 million annually. Every penny received provides direct support to those who are struggling.
In addition to The Power to Care, Entergy Arkansas sponsors Super Tax Day events to help ensure customers qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit and file their income taxes at no cost.
Additional help this past year came from increased funding of the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides money to help customers with energy bills and other energy-related expenses. And soon, we will help promote a new federal program that will provide assistance directly to landlords and renters. Entergy Arkansas is committed to helping lead economic recovery by working with our public officials, industry peers and investors to move our state – and our customers -forward.
As Arkansas government and business leaders wrap their arms around the interventions necessary to get our state’s economy strong again, we would be wise to look at the vulnerabilities that existed before the crisis hit. This means we need to take a hard look at ALICE and, using the data at ALICEinAR.org, prioritize long-term policy solutions and programs that put Arkansas’s working households on more secure ground in the future.
We appreciate all our customers and especially, you, who care so much about the ALICE families and work each day to make Arkansas a better place to live and work.
At Entergy Arkansas, we believe that we can only be as strong as the communities we serve. We look forward to providing affordable power to all our customers, including ALICE, through this period of uncertainty and working with leaders across the state on policies that put Arkansas workers first.