McLean County has been approved for a $200,000 grant to help those affected by COVID and are behind on utility bills.
According to its website, the Department for Local Government (DLG) has up to $38 million available for utility relief from the Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus Response (CDBG-CV) program. DLG will administer the funding from the CDBG-CV program established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The program was officially announced by Gov. Andy Beshear in January.
“What this program is set up to do is (for) people that have been negatively impacted by COVID, especially with the inability to pay for their utility bills,” Judge-Executive Curtis Dame said.
Local governments, such as McLean County, that have been approved for the grant must partner with a community action agency to assist with funding administration.
In this case, Dame said that the county has partnered with Audubon Area Community Services, who already facilitate a similar program called Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that focuses on aiding households that need financial assistance to pay for heating and cooling bills.
Other counties participating in the program with Audubon are Daviess, Hancock, Ohio, Union and Webster.
“We were one of the two counties in the state to be approved of this first,” Dame said. “If citizens meet the criteria for needing help with utility bills, we will receive a funding request from Audubon Area and (Green River Area Development District), and we’ll in turn disburse that money through this program. So, we’re not just giving out $200,000 just because. There are criteria, but it’s meant to help people solve these late utility bill issues or … arrearages.”
According to DLG’s website, the criteria to receive funding is for a resident to live in a city or county approved for funding; have been financially impacted by COVID-19, struggling to pay water, sewer, electric, gas or other heating and cooling bills; and have received notice to be disconnected from a utility service between Jan. 21, 2020, and presently, and/or up to two months following.
“It’s going to be income level specific,” Dame said. “It’ll have to do with at the time of when these bills accrued these late charges (if) the individual was on unemployment or had the individual lost employment (or if) they were trying to get unemployment. All of these factors weigh into the eligibility requirements of this program.”
Dame notes that the program will be an indirect payment.
“If an individual applies to this program, the money does not directly flow to the individual,” Dame said. “The money is paid through Audubon Area to the utility that the arrearage is with. It does not pass through the checking account of the individual that has the late issue.”
In March, Dame said that the county had $302,771.38 worth of late utility bills across the population, with most delinquencies being for electric and gas.
“It took awhile for this program to get approved because it’s a federal grant,” Dame said. “If you are aware of that process, it does not happen overnight.”
This program, coupled with the “free food giveaways done” in the county, Dame said that the county is closing in on close to $400,000 in either “true, physical food products” or “these $200,000 worth of utility payments to help our citizens get back on their feet.”
“The court and myself are committed to help facilitate opportunities like this,” Dame said. “We haven’t facilitated this amount of federal funding in many, many years.”
Dame said that the grant also puts the county in a good position.
“All together, with the $250,000 from the Western fire truck grant, the $200,000 CDBG utilities grant, the $99,000 in Rural Development — what will happen is (that) we will almost have enough money to exceed the single special audit requirement. $750,000 is that dollar figure,” Dame said. “That’s a good thing. Some people see having to do that audit as a lot of work, but it’s an indication that we’ve received enough money that the federal government is going to audit our records.
“Audits don’t have to be bad things. I think we’re all shell-shocked about the issues with audits in the past with the county finances, but we’re in the good now.”
Freddie Bourne, email@example.com