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Gov. Justice, Public Service Commission Announce COVID-19 Grant Program for Overdue Utility Bills

Justice

CHARLESTON — Utility customers that have experienced trouble keeping up with bills due to loss of jobs or reduced hours brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic were told Wednesday to watch their mailboxes for a new grant program.

Gov. Jim Justice and Public Service Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Lane announced that $25 million of the $1.25 billion given to the state through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act would be distributed to assist qualifying West Virginians with payment of utility bills.

“Today is a really big day for a lot of people who are struggling with the pandemic from the standpoint of utilities,” Justice said. “Now all of this is ready to go.”

The $25 million will be distributed to local public service districts and go toward water, sewer, electric, and natural gas utility payments. Delinquent bills between March 1 and July 31 are eligible for the grant program.

Eligibility is limited to customers that have experienced economic hardship or uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing those customers to have delinquent bills.

Those who qualify will receive applications from their utility companies. Those forms must be filled out and returned to the utility company no later than Thursday, Nov. 12.

State officials said it was important for utility customers to watch their mail and make sure not to throw away mail from their utilities so that they don’t accidentally throw away the grant application.

“Take advantage of that, West Virginia,” Justice said. “I truly hope and believe that this money will assist West Virginians that are struggling with the pandemic.”

“These customers will be receiving letters in the next few days,” Lane said. “Please open these envelopes and fill out the applications and return them to the utility companies or to the Dollar Energy Fund. … Don’t throw those bills away.”

Officials estimate that approximately 133,000 residential customers could benefit from the utility grant program. The Public Service Commission sent an email to utilities on March 13, and followed with a general order on March 17, urging a voluntary moratorium on service terminations. The moratorium was lifted on July 1.

“There are thousands of West Virginians who are forced to choose between paying their utility bills, buying food and medicine, or paying for other essentials,” Lane said. “This … will help these qualified West Virginians and it will make a difference in their lives.”

Justice first announced the $25 million for the utility grant program in May when he unveiled his plan for spending the $1.25 billion in C.A.R.E.S. Act funding given to the state for coronavirus-related expenses for state, county, and city governments.

Of the $1.25 billion, nearly $300 million has been spent, including $113 million of $200 million set aside for local government reimbursements, leaving nearly $970 million left. Another $57 million was set aside for state coronavirus reimbursements for the last fiscal year, and $96 million to cover state reimbursements between July and the end of the year. And $22 million was spent from $40 million set aside for a small business grant program.

A total of $587 million was set aside for unemployment benefits: $287 million for claims filed between March and July, and $300 million to cover new claims through the end of the year. Other allocations include: $50 million for broadband development; $50 million for highway repairs for roads that connect to healthcare facilities; $50 million to the West Virginia National Guard for COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment; and $25 million to reimburse the Governor’s Civil Contingency Fund.

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