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Roanoke Valley localities, utility providers continue utility relief programs

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Help With Utility Bills During The Coronavirus Crisis

Localities in the Roanoke Valley are using federal dollars to help citizens who have had trouble paying their bills during the pandemic.

The assistance to help residents through the American Rescue Plan act has certain caveats on how the money can be used, but those eligible may not even have to apply in some circumstances.

The details:

Roanoke—residents may seek help with unpaid bills through the city. The program, Individual/Household Financial Assistance for Unpaid Bills, began accepting applications Nov 29. The city set aside $500,000 of its pandemic relief grant under ARPA for the program, and applicants must reside in a household in which the combined gross income of occupants is no more than twice the income by which the federal government defines poverty.

Those in need can get up to $1,000 per qualified household toward existing, unpaid bills in these categories: utilities including phone, internet, electricity and natural gas, vehicle loan payments and vehicle insurance, medical bills and school and job training.

Applicants must reside in a household in which the combined gross income of occupants is no more than twice the income by which the federal government defines poverty.

Applicants must have a gross income of less than approximately $25,000 for a one-person household, $35,000 for a two-person household, $44,000 for a three-person household and $53,000 for a four-person household.

Additionally, the household must have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More details can be found online at www.roanokeva.gov.

Salem—The city has provided relief to citizens throughout the pandemic, according to city spokesman Mike Stevens, but it also is using new ARPA money for utility relief.

The city was recently notified that it received the funding but has not yet received the payments, but city officials expect the amount to exceed $250,000.

The city is still in the process of identifying how exactly it will disperse the funds, according to Stevens.

“Salem has its own Electric and Water Departments and at this time we are reviewing the documents to determine which utilities are applicable for the assistance,” he wrote in an email.

Vinton—the town received $118,000 in ARPA funding for utility relief for its nearly 5,200 water customers that qualify for the aid, according to Assistant Town Manager Cody Sexton.

Cities and counties were allowed to apply for the funds on their own, but town and other utility providers had to have one of the former types of localities as a cosigner of sorts.

Vinton used Roanoke County and the county did not apply for funding since it does not have any utilities it provides its residents, according to county officials.

Sexton said the town plans on making an announcement in January regarding the details of its plan for applying the relief to customer accounts.

“The deadline to spend the money is March … we anticipate applying the relief to customer accounts prior to bills going out in February,” he wrote in an email.

Appalachian Power—the company has received a sizable amount of federal funding to help customers in need, according to company spokeswoman Teresa Hall.

AEP first received $10.3 million in US Cares Act funds in 2020 to help customers with overdue balances during the pandemic, but it has since received more, Hall wrote in an email.

“The Virginia General Assembly in late summer 2021 allocated to Appalachian Power an additional $10.9 million in funds from ARPA to assist residential customers. This funding was applied last month to qualifying customer accounts,” she wrote.

Hall said AEP recognizes the difficult time customers are facing, and said there are several payment option customers can learn about by calling 1-800-956-4237 or by visiting www.appalachianpower.com/account/bills/pay/assistance/.

Western Virginia Water Authority—The authority recently received approximately $417,000 in ARPA funding that it put toward delinquent accounts that fell within the timeframe allowed, March 12, 2020, through Aug. 31, 2021.

Spokeswoman Sarah Baumgardner said the authority recently received the money and applied it to nearly 2,000 applicable accounts.

Baumgardner noted that it did not cover all of the outstanding balances for the qualifying time period, but the authority will continue to work on helping customers still in need.

Customers should see the credits applied on upcoming bills, she said.

The Authority now provides water service to over 62,000 customer accounts and wastewater service for more than 56,000 accounts in Roanoke, Roanoke County, Franklin County and Botetourt County. It also contracts to operate the water and wastewater systems for the town of Fincastle and the town of Boones Mill.

Other localities in the region may also have utility assistance. Those seeking assistance can find out more information through their local government offices.

Staff writer Jeff Sturgeon contributed to this report.

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