Funds are available for helping with overdue utility bills

Danville and Boyle County governments will be applying for state funds to help residents pay their overdue utility bills.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced recently that up to $38 million will be available to local governments to help their residents pay utility bills that are overdue.

According to a news release from the governor’s office, the Department for Local Government (DLG) will administer the funding from the Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus Response (CDBG-CV) program established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“We want to get this assistance out the door as quickly as possible, because protecting Kentuckians is our number one priority,” said DLG Commissioner Dennis Keene. “We encourage local governments to submit applications as quickly as possible.”

Boyle County Administrator Julie Wagner and Danville City Manager Earl Coffey both said their respective governments would be applying for the grant as soon as possible because there has been more people asking for and needing assistance since the pandemic began nearly one year ago.

To apply, local governments must submit an application to DLG. If approved, local governments must then partner with a community action agency to assist with funding administration.

To simplify the process and fulfill that need, DLG has partnered with Kentucky’s 15 Area Development Districts (ADD) to assist units of local government, local nonprofit community service providers and eligible Kentuckians with their applications and administering funds.

Households are eligible for up to $250 per month for six consecutive months if:

• They live in a city or county approved for funding;

• Have been financially impacted by COVID-19;

• Are struggling to pay water, sewer, electric, gas or other heating and cooling bills; and

• Have received notice for disconnect between Jan. 21, 2020, and present day and/or up to two months following.

Once a household’s application is approved, the local nonprofit community service provider will transfer funds directly to a utility provider on their behalf.

Troy Roberts, executive director of the Blue Grass Community Action Partnership said, “The CDBG program, in its current form, is very cumbersome and difficult for everyone involved. The Community Action Network and the Area Development Districts across the state will be working together to see if this program can be made easier to administer and most importantly, more client friendly.”

In the meantime, people who need assistance with their utility bills should contact BGCAP, which administers the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) locally.

“We (BGCAP) are administering LIHEAP Crisis and this will be going on until at least the end of March. Clients must have a late or disconnect notice during crisis. There are rumors that another LIHEAP program may start after Crisis but nothing has been confirmed.

 “It has also been rumored there is more funding coming for water and sewer bills. This has not been confirmed yet either.”

Roberts said there are more people asking for utility assistance this winter than during past winters. Also, restrictions on who qualifies for assistance has been loosen because of the availability of COVID relief grants, he said.

Rogers added that if someone wants to request help, they should call Danville’s BGCAP office at 859-236-2955 or visit the Boyle County Blue Grass Community Action Partnership Facebook page to make an appointment. Lincoln County residents should call 606-365-2312 or visit the Lincoln County BGCAP page.

Diane Miller, manager of ATMOS Energy’s public affairs office said the natural gas company serves 37 counties and about 21,000 customers are in arrears for a total of $6.4 million.

In Boyle County, ATMOS has 6,500 customers and about 1,600 of them have past due accounts over 30 days or more for a total of $248,176.

Lincoln County has 1,500 ATMOS customers and about 412 of those accounts are 30 days or more past due for a total of $32,334, she said.

These customers include residential, commercial and industrial classifications, Miller said.

She added that LIHEAP funds haven’t been used up yet, “So anyone who needs help in shoring up their accounts” should contact the BGCAP office first to see if they qualify.

ATMOS also provides assistance with its Sharing the Warmth program, she added. Any ATMOS customer who needs help paying their bill, or getting caught up, should contact the customer care center at 1-888-286-6700 or go to www.atmosenergy.com.

“Customers need to take the initiative and make a call,” to get financial assistance, Miller said. “Right now we’re not turning off the gas. We’re not going to do it,” Miller said. We want to help our customers. We don’t want anybody being cold. There are plenty of resources out there. But customers have to be the ones to reach out. It’s not difficult to get help.”

Danville’s Municipal Utility Director Marshall Carrier who over sees the local water plant and its customers said, “COVID has been devastating to our customer base.” The water plant serves 11,000 residential, commercial, industrial, and wholesale customers. And about 350 local residential water account customers are in arrears with their water bills. “But but keep in mind this number will vary up until CDBG funding is further discussed.”

He added that if the city is approved for the CDBG, “We will be partnering with BGADD, and local community action agencies to facilitate this discussion as details become available from DLG, etc.”