CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Cuyahoga County residents are rushing to apply for help paying utility bills Wednesday.
On the first day of a new program in Cuyahoga County, agents were booked solid, taking calls from residents who say they are desperate.
19 News investigators looked into how far will the funding go, and whether it keep everyone from being cut off in the months ahead.
Cuyahoga County set aside $2 million in CARES Act funding for utility relief.
In an email, the county told 19 News that during this pandemic, the need for rent and utility aid has never been greater. The Cleveland Housing Network Housing Partners reported that 66 percent of applicants seeking rental assistance are also seeking utility assistance.
The new program will support eligible residents in need of assistance paying sewer, water, wastewater, electric, and gas utilities.
“These moneys will go directly to the utilities and not to the individuals,” a councilmember said when the measure was approved.
Residents will need to make an appointment to speak with an agent at CHN about their individual situations.
CHN posted these instructions on its website about how the process will work.
- Appointments are available. Please call 216-350-8008 to schedule.
- You will be instructed on how to submit required documentation. Required documents must be submitted not later than 3 days prior to the date of your appointment, or you may be asked to reschedule.
- Your appointment will be conducted by phone, or video conference. Instead of going into an agency, you will be called by a HEAP Intake Specialist on the date and time of your appointment.
- To avoid appointment delays, the telephone number you provide when scheduling must be a working number and one that you may be reached at to conduct your telephone interview.
- Document upload information and instructions may be found online chn.itfrontdesk.com The online system is quick and easy to use. You may even prefer to use the online scheduler to make your appointment. If you are unable to use the online system to submit your application documents, you may submit one of the following ways: CHN Utility Assistance Drop Box (near Suite 134) 2999 Payne Ave, Cleveland, OH 44114. Please do not drop originals. Fax: 216-912-0700 On cover page, please indicate “HEAP Department” as intended receiver If you already have an appointment, please also include your confirmation number on cover page
We asked Cleveland Public Power and the water company for data on how much residents owe them in past due payments.
While they couldn’t give us a number, Lauren Siburkis with First Energy says more and more customers are asking for help.
“We have received an increase in the number of customers who are reaching out to us,” she said.
So, will 2 million dollars be enough to cover Cuyahoga County residents and prevent shut offs in the months to come?
Public Utility companies in Cleveland are legally allowed to start shutoffs again next month, perhaps bringing people who’ve needed help for a while out of the wood work.
Jeanne Morton is with the Cleveland Housing Network. It’s the organization distributing the county’s money.
CHN has had utility assistance programs in place for many years, including, electric, gas, water and sewer programs in partnership with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, the Cleveland Division of Water, First Energy, Cleveland Public Power and Dominion. Morton says the demand for help this year and even right now, is of course much higher.
She says, “Now that they are starting to lift those moratoriums, people are panicking a little bit and we are seeing a lot more people all at once.”
Morton says of around 8,000 people who applied for help on rental payments, almost 70 percent of them asked for assistance with utility bills too.
If you estimate each bill being 250 dollars, Morton says the 2 million dollars should be enough to help around 4,000 people.
“Maybe less, depending on what the balances actually are,” Morton said.
She says thousands could continue to scramble.
“We will look at every application and see if there is alternate funding to help them,” she said.
CHN says the funding from Cuyahoga County will add to our existing resources and ability to serve Cuyahoga County residents in need of assistance. To access these dollars, residents must be income eligible (below 120% AMI or a little over $90,000 in annual salary for a family of 4) and must have experienced a COVID hardship such as loss of job or illness after March 1, 2020.
Cleveland Public power has not responded with whether it plans to shut off services for overdue accounts next month.
As far as First Energy customers go though, the company says it will not shut off service, as long as you communicate with them.
“Even if they can just pay a small portion of their bill that will at least help them prevent a disconnection to their utility service,” Siburkis said. “We’re all in this together and the last thing we want to do is disconnect their power.”
Cuyahoga County’s new program is not the only grant in the area that can help residents with utilities.