COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Eligible Boone County residents are now able to apply for support to pay past-due utility bills through Central Missouri Community Action's Boone Cares utility assistance program.
The utility assistance program will help to cover past-due bills for electricity, internet, gas, propane, sewer, trash and water accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic. The services must have been provided between March 1 and Nov. 15.
Applicants must complete six steps which include completing a Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program application. Applicants also have to have a household income that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, 200% of the federal poverty level is $52,400.
CMCA executive director Darin Preis said that the non-profit knew when the moratorium on utility disconnects ran out that there would be a big problem in the community. He said through this program CMCA is trying to help people it may not have normally served because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That was my big concern is that people hadn’t been paying their utility bills for several months,” Preis said. "So we’re seeing utility bills of $1,000 and $2,000 and my big concern is that people wouldn’t have the savings or the ability to pay that off. That would put them in a terrible position going into the winter."
Preis said he worked with the city of Columbia and the county commission to get the program together. The Boone County Commission approved CARES Act funding for CMCA’s utility assistance program on Thursday.
“We put together some marketing pieces that are now on our website,” Preis said. “And trained up our staff and got ourselves ready very, very quickly. In a span of about two weeks we put this program together and we are now taking applications.”
Preis said as of Wednesday CMCA has received about 10 applications for the utility assistance program but he said the organization is prepared to receive more.
“We have the capacity to process many, many applications at once,” Preis said.
Preis said it takes them about seven business days to process completed applications.
He said he wants people to know that the program applies to all of Boone County and not just specifically Columbia.
Preis said this program is different from other programs CMCA runs because it offers assistance for various forms of utility.
Preis said there is no limit on the amount of assistance CMCA will provide for households but he said the average amount for people behind on their utility payments is about $700. He said with that average CMCA would be able to process about 600 applications.
“We’re catching people up,” Preis said. “So if they haven’t paid their bills since May we could catch them fully up to now.”
Preis said CMCA is accepting applications until Dec. 11 but he stressed the importance of people applying sooner rather than later because they are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.
The city of Columbia will resume utility disconnections on or after Oct. 26.
Assistant Director for Utilities Sarah Talbert said there are 1,979 customers pending disconnect as of Wednesday. This is a significant decrease compared to September when there were over 5,000 customers pending disconnect.
She said said when they first announced they would resume disconnections the department had hundreds of people coming in to pay their bills.
"I think it’s been very effective," Talbert said. "We’ve seen a lot of individuals, customers come in, that week before we were going to do disconnects."
She said that customers that are experiencing hardships paying their utility bills are encouraged to reach out to utility customer service to set up payment arrangements at 573-874-7380 or email at UCS@CoMo.