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Utility, Water, Wastewater Districts May Soon Benefit from Federal Household Relief Programs

Special districts providing utilities may soon be able to take advantage of two federal funding programs for low-income households’ utility services but will need to do so in collaboration with their counties or the state.

SDAO is working with its National Special District Coalition partners to clarify outstanding questions on the federal programs. Although further information establishing eligibility and details on administration of the programs are still pending, special districts providing utility, water, and wastewater services should consider preparing documentation on their total arrears to demonstrate need to state and local agencies.

Emergency Rental (and Utility) Assistance Program

The Fiscal Year 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act established a $25 billion “Emergency Rental Assistance” program, of which 90 percent may be used to assist with low-income individuals’ rent and utility bills. Following a similar CARES Act allocation method, 55 percent of funds will be distributed directly from the U.S. Treasury to states for their use with the remaining 45 percent going directly to cities and counties with populations greater than 200,000. Treasury’s deadline for disbursing funds to states is January 26.

U.S. Treasury has yet to define which utility services will be eligible for this program and whether application for funding would be tied to rental assistance. SDAO and national partners are seeking clarification on these questions.

How to Access Funds

Per existing guidelines, the State of Oregon will reserve $154.7 million in federal funding, which it may use for its own program or disburse to municipalities that will not receive direct allocations. Oregon city and counties receiving direct funding allocation will receive an estimated of $126.5 million.

Special districts providing utilities located in a county with 200,000 or more residents may be able to access funds through the county government, and it is strongly encouraged that interested districts work with the county in advance to participate in the program. Click here for a list of counties and cities eligible to receive direct funding. Others will be subject to the state government’s allocation of funds. Treasury guidance outlines the process as follows:

  • States and local governments receiving the funding will be required to establish programs to distribute the assistance to households.
  • Under the program, individual households and/or landlords will be required to submit applications for assistance to local city/county government. Special districts providing utilities would need to encourage their qualifying customers to apply for the aid, and they will need to work with their county or the state to participate in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.Landlords and owners may apply on behalf of tenants meeting the eligibility requirements, so long as the tenant cosigns the application, the landlord provides documentation to the tenant, and the payments are used to satisfy the tenant’s rental obligation to the owner.
  • Depending on how a county/city executes its program, funds may be paid directly to landlords or utility service providers.

Energy/Utility Customer Eligibility

For tenants to be eligible for the program, their household income must be at or less than 80 percent of the local area’s median income (with priority given to households with incomes of no more than 50 percent of local area median income and to those where one or more individual who have been unemployed for 90 days) and meet the following conditions:

  • One or more individual in the household has qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak; and
  • One or more individual in the household can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability which may include:A past due utility or rent notice or an eviction notice;Unsafe or unhealthy living conditions; orAny other evidence of such risk as the local city, county or state program determines.

Click here to find the AMI for your location. Payments under the program may be made for one year.

Low-Income Household Drinking Water and Wastewater Emergency Assistance Program

This first-of-its-kind federal water assistance program, $638 million will be allocated nationally, granted through states, to water and wastewater operators to reduce arrearages from overdue bills. Little federal guidance has been offered so far on how states should grant these programs, however state Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Programs (LIHEAP) may be the most likely approach.

More information on this program will be shared as federal guidance is issued.