PAXTON — As corn growers struggle with low prices and hog producers deal with a supply chain in flux, more of Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative’s customers have had overdue payments in the past few months.
“We’re very rural. We average three meters per mile of line,” said CEO Bob Hunzinger. “We’ve seen both the number of member accounts that are past due and the dollar amounts about 2 to 2.5 times what they were,” though he said the number of overdue customers was low to begin with.
Customers will need to pay eventually, he said, but Eastern Illini isn’t disconnecting anyone or collecting late fees while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing.
“We’re following those guidelines” from the state, Hunzinger said. “In fact, we started that practice a few days before the (Illinois) attorney general came out with that.”
He said the overdue accounts are a combination of customers dealing with the issues facing agriculture and people who work in Champaign, Bloomington or Kankakee that may have lost their job.
“Probably a mixture of all those,” he said. “It’s just going to be a tough year for the majority of member accounts that are ag-related.”
In recent years, Eastern Illini has seen a lot of growth from customers related to pork production.
“Of our top 40 accounts by usage, about 25 to 30 percent are in the hog production arena,” Hunzinger said.
He said the supply-chain issues, with meatpacking plants with COVID-19 outbreaks closing temporarily, “probably had a little impact on the ability of producers to get hogs to market, but I haven’t heard a huge issue there.”
The company itself has been able to function “pretty much normally,” Hunzinger said, since it’s an essential business.