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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Utility Bill Relief Program Could Help Those Suffering Economic Impacts of COVID

The economic impact of COVID-19 has affected people all over the country. Fort Thomas residents owe close to $200,000 to just two area utilities, but a federal program offers help. (FTM file)

by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

Hundreds of residents throughout Campbell County are facing economic challenges and hardships as a result of job loss, hours reduction, medical bills and related issues brought on directly by the COVID-19 crisis. 

While there is a moratorium on utility shutoffs right now, many people have gotten far behind and worry about what will happen when the moratorium is lifted.
Relief for utility bills, in the form of a federal community block grant, is making the rounds in cities throughout the county. Cities discussing and holding public hearings on the matter over the next few weeks include Alexandria, Bellevue, Cold Spring, Highland Heights, Newport and many others. 
Fort Thomas, despite having a higher median household income than most cities in the county, has not escaped these financial troubles brought on by the pandemic. 
City residents owe $197,000 to just two area utilities — SD1 and the Northern Kentucky Water District — according the Lisa Cooper, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Area Development District (NKADD).

Cooper addressed the February meeting of the Fort Thomas city council to let the city know help is available through a federal Community Development Block Grant Utility Assistance program.

What funds are available?

Cities are required to apply for the program on behalf of their communities and would serve as a pass-through for the funds. No city funds would be used, and the money would be distributed to residents through the local offices of the Community Action Commission (CAC).

The maximum allowed for each city application is $200,000, Cooper explained. She urged city officials to consider applying. The data shows city residents have almost reached that maximum with just the two utilities, SD1 and NKWD, she noted.

"This is before we have data from Duke, so we are quite certain the dollar amount is going to be well above the $200,000. We would encourage you to apply for the maximum, " she advised city officials.

Cooper and her colleagues are making the rounds throughout the eight Northern Kentucky counties within the NKADD jurisdiction to let cities know about the funds. She said the funds would be available to residents by about mid-April.

What is the program?

Through the program, city residents who are behind in utility bills due to the effects of COVID would be eligible for up to $250 a month for six consecutive months. These months could have occurred any time between January 21, 2020 and present.

As noted above, funds will likely be available by mid-April through the nearest Community Action Coalition office. People will need proof of city residence, delinquency notices and other information for the application. Full detailed information will be made available throughout the county as we get closer to the time funds become available, explained Cooper.

The program is designed specifically to help people affected by the COVID-19 crisis. It’s not for people who are habitually behind with their bills, Cooper said, although people self-identify their need in this case. If people owe more than the allotted amount, they would still need to work with their utility company on a plan for the remainder not covered by the program funds. 

Fort Thomas council member Connie Grubbs asked what would happen if Fort Thomas residents did not need the full $200,000 in the program. Cooper noted that the program covers three years, but on the off chance the funds are not fully utilized, the money could be re-allotted to other areas as needed. The NKADD will be monitoring the program, she said. 

City council voted to pass a resolution allowing the mayor to make the application for the utility block grant program. Not only will the program help individual residents, said Cooper, but also provide some relief for area utilities.

The nearest CAC location to Fort Thomas is the Campbell County Neighborhood Center at 437 West Ninth Street in Newport. More information will be made available once the application is made and funds are ready for distribution.

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