By Misti Spicer
Scioto County is one of 13 counties in Ohio taking part in a pilot program through the Ohio Development Services Agency to help residents pay their water bills. Administered through the Community Action Organization of Scioto County the program began with a soft rollout on October 1st according to Angela Davis, CAO Social Service Director. She said the idea for the program first originated with the group Mayor’s Partnership for Progress.
“Water bills have gone up over the last several years and people are having a hard time paying those bills, so what they did they requested Governor Kasich to provide funding assistance for those bills,” Davis said. “So, from that came a request to the Ohio Development Services Agency to come up with a way to try to help with those bills. They came up with a pilot program where they are using $500,000 in discretionary community services block grant funds to help with water bills.”
Davis said the maximum assistance they can provide is $200 and one must meet several conditions to be eligible for assistance.
“The water bill has to be in an adult person’s name in the household. It can’t be in a landlord’s name. It has to be in a disconnect status, or if it’s been shut off, we can help in that situation too,” Davis said.
She said Community Action can help pay a late fee, reconnect fees or other items on the bill, or whatever is required for service to be maintained for 30 days.
“It’s a one-time assistance. The maximum benefit is up to $200,” Davis explained. “To be eligible households have to be at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.”
Davis said those who are struggling to pay their water bill or are facing a disconnection notice are urged to contact Community Action at 740-354-7541. She said when they call, they will be told what information they will need to bring with them to the office.
“We will have to do a face to face interview. At that time, we’ll sit down with them and do an application to determine if they will be eligible,” Davis said.
If one is deemed eligible for the program Davis said they will pay the fee directly to the water company and not the applicant. She said they have a memorandum of understanding with the water distribution companies in the county who are aware of the program.
“Anytime they have a person with a problem paying a disconnect notice they refer them to us to see if we can help,” she said.
Since the program began on October 1 Davis said they have been able to help 35 households with over $5,000 in water bill payments. She said they hope to help between 400 and 500 households before the pilot program ends on September 30. Davis said however she hopes a permanent water bill assistance program is eventually put in place.
“We’ve been talking with people at the state level for some time telling them that there needs to be some sort of assistance with water bills, because water bills have increased not just in the city of Portsmouth, but all over the state,” Davis said. “They’ve gotten to the point where they are just as expensive as your natural gas bill or your electric bill sometimes.”
Davis said whether or not the water bill assistance program becomes a permanent program or not depends on the success of the pilot program.