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Corporate America steps up to help with missed payments, late fees and disconnections

For service workers economically affected by the virus, any relief is lifesaving.
Image: A server works in the dining room of the Athenian Seafood Restaurant in Seattle
A server works in the dining room of the Athenian Seafood Restaurant in the Public Market amid the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle on Saturday, March 14, 2020.Brian Snyder / Reuters

With the threat of economic hardship looming for some workers as businesses close across the country, some of the largest companies are waiving late fees, forgiving missed payments and expanding services.

More than 100 municipal water and utility companies across 34 states said they won't shut off water service for late payments in response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to data collected by Food & Water Action, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

Utility companies have suspended shut-offs for nonpayment as the virus continues to disrupt daily life. New York's Con Edison said it will forgo shut-offs "involving customers having payment difficulties" as the state faces "the enormous challenges presented by the coronavirus."

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The announcements come as some retail, restaurant and travel companies are forced to close up shop until the virus is contained. New Jersey, Connecticut and New York planned to shut restaurants and bars beginning Monday night to stem infection rates. Kentucky, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, Rhode Island and Indiana announced similar measures.

For service workers like Simone Swanson, 22, any relief is lifesaving. Swanson, who lives in Bloomington, Indiana, works three jobs to pay for school and living expenses as a server at a pizza restaurant, as a server at a restaurant on Indiana University's campus and as a babysitter. But as of Monday, bars, nightclubs and restaurants will be closed for in-person patrons through the end of March, leaving her with no income.

"I was just not expecting any of this," she said. "Today was the first day it all set in for me. I need to go into survival mode."

Swanson's credit card company, Discover, is among the slew of companies that have announced relief for people who are financially distressed because of the virus. The company told NBC News that it is extending relief to qualified customers, which can include support related to payment timing, fees and late payments.

Apple Card will relieve its customers of their March payments after they enroll in the company's customer assistance program. American Express will discuss payment options and financial hardship programs with customers who are having trouble making payments and won't require physical proof of difficulty to enroll. Wells Fargo and Capital One will also offer fee suppression, minimum payment assistance and deferred loan payments depending on a customer's needs.

"We understand the concern and uncertainty people may be experiencing surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and are committed to being responsive to the needs of our customers and associates as the situation evolves," Capital One said in an emailed statement.

Citi will also offer fee waivers, hardship programs, and additional small business support, such as extended banker availability, for impacted customers.

Chase did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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A group of broadband and telecommunications companies, including AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Cox, Google Fiber, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile, signed a pledge last week to postpone termination of services for the next 60 days for customers unable to pay their bills because of the outbreak. Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.

Separately, AT&T said it will waive internet data overage fees for customers. Sprint customers will get expanded roaming access through T-Mobile's network, which includes expanded coverage in rural areas, over the next 60 days. Verizon said it will waive late fees for customers and small businesses. Comcast said it will give its Internet Essentials to qualified households for free for 60 days.

Swanson in Bloomington isn't sure whether she'll get any relief on her rent or her school or car payments. She isn't sure what the next two weeks will hold for her or whether she'll have a job after the virus is contained.

"If I had known that this would have been bad, I would have prepared for it," she said. "I was just becoming financially stable, and now I'm just going back into this hole."