Those West Virginians who are experiencing financial hardships due to the coronavirus-pandemic received a little bit of good news last week.
During his Wednesday, October 21, coronavirus response media-briefing, Governor Jim Justice announced that $25 million of CARES Act funding has been allocated to assist qualifying West Virginians with paying their past-due utility bills. The funds are being distributed directly to Public Service Districts, and will then be passed along to consumers in need. The funds will be used to assist customers of electric, natural gas, water and sewer utility companies.
“Take advantage of this, West Virginia,” Justice said at the time of the announcement. “We’ve got $25 million coming your way.”
Utility customers who are carrying a past-due balance from the time period of March 1 through July 31 of this year will receive a letter in the mail containing an application for the assistance. The program has been designed to help both customers, as well as utility service providers satisfy delinquent accounts, therefore preventing disconnections ahead of the colder winter months.
Although the program will potentially be of great benefit to those who have been unable to cover their utility expenses, it affords no assistance to customers who have managed to scrape together the money to cover the cost of the bills.
At the October 21 media-briefing, Charlotte Lane, chairman of the West Virginia Public Service Commission, said, “there are thousands of West Virginians who are finding themselves having to choose between paying their utility bills, buying food or medicine or paying for other essentials. The $25 million of CARES Act money that has been allocated by the governor will help qualified West Virginians, and it will make a difference in their lives.”
The program will be beneficial to many residents who found themselves forced to make the impossible choice of either paying their utility bills or buying other essential items. However, it does not appear to do anything for the other side: the families who chose to forsake those other essentials in order to pay for utilities.
This was something Justice was asked about at his Friday, October 23, coronavirus response media-briefing; particularly, if there was any assistance available to struggling families who don’t necessarily have a past-due utility account.
“Right now it is only for delinquent bills,” Justice said. “But I understand exactly where you’re going with this because I would concur. If you’ve got someone who is really having a tough time, and they have some way, somehow scratched around and found enough money to keep their utility bills paid, and they’re still really, really struggling, I want to find a way to help them.”
Justice further stated, “We will have some who have paid their bills, and some way, somehow, I wish to God we could find a way to back up and help them out, as well. And we won’t quit on that. We’ll keep trying to find a way to do that.”