Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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State Pivot; UCHRA Helps Residents Pay Off Water Bills

UCHRA not expected to have money to help with water bill assistance this year, but a sudden change in state policy resulted in some $50,000 in bills paid off.

Community Service Programs Manager Judy Sanchez said the program was scheduled to end in September of 2023. She said the state approved a 90-day extension with an additional $150,000 of funding. Sanchez said on the last weekend of March nearly $50,000 was distributed in a single weekend.

“It’s enormous,” Sanchez said. “I mean just to think, $250 a person across the whole Upper Cumberland, that is a lot of people that we assisted. That’s a lot of help, you know, where they can take that funding, put it into other necessity items.”

Sanchez said while the funds are distributed at a minimum of $250 per person, some households received more than $2,000 with special approval. She said with gas and food becoming more expensive, the big push sent thousands of families into April in a much more comfortable financial position.

“We just started trying to find people,” Sanchez said. “Get in touch with our local utility districts and say, ‘Hey, are there people in need that you can give us their name or send them up to us so we can go ahead and start getting this money spent?’ And all of our counties worked very, very hard, and that very last week was a huge push to try to get those final dollars out.”

She said the program worked hand-in-hand with a similar program that assists families with electric bills. Community Services Assistant Director Jordan Herald said people became eligible for the LIHWAP Program once they applied for electrical assistance.

“It’s our goal to assist an individual with many services,” Herald said. “So if someone comes in requesting one service, we typically speak to them to see what else is going on in their life and their situation at the time, and we like to connect them to other community resources.”

Sanchez said the UCHRA has asked the state about renewing the program, but it does not seem likely as of now. She said county executives across the Upper Cumberland have said that they would like another form of this service, and some communities have begun funding their own version of water assistance.

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