According to the state’s largest electrical utility, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the number of customers more than two months behind on their electric bills to double.
Kristin Kelly, spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power, said Tuesday that right now there are more than 23,000 customers at least 60 days behind. This time last year, it was just more than 11,000.
The company has approximately 266,000 customers, residential and businesses. She said the majority of those in arrears are residential customers.
“That really speaks to what’s happening in the state right now and why it’s so important that there’s assistance available,” she said.
The assistance is coming from the Utility Arrearage Application Assistance program, which the state’s network of community action groups, such as BROC Community Action, serving Rutland and Bennington counties, and Capstone Community Action, serving central Vermont, is helping people use.
It’s not limited to electric bills. People can get help with landline phone bills, certain types of water bills, and in some areas, natural gas bills. Businesses can also apply, but the community action groups are only providing navigation for individuals, said Tom Donahue, chief executive officer of BROC.
“It’s much like Vermont Health Connect where you can access the portal and fill out your own application for Vermont Health Connect, make your choices, and submit it to the state,” said Donahue.
The online portal can be accessed at bit.ly/0902Utility and people can sign up for themselves, however those who don’t have a computer, access to one, or simply aren’t comfortable using the website can call their local community action group.
Those in Bennington and Rutland counties can reach BROC at 802-775-0878
Sue Rossi, energy coordinator at Capstone Community Action, said people in the Morrisville area can call 802-888-7993. Folks around Barre should call 802-479-1053, while people around Randolph should use the number 802-728-9506.
Rossi said Capstone has helped about 85 people since mid-August. Donahue said BROC has helped about 100 so far.
According to Donahue, funds for the program come from the federal CARES Act, which the Vermont Legislature used $8 million of for this. The deadline to apply is Nov. 30, and one must be at least 60 days in arrears.
Donahue said the worry is that people who need and qualify for this won’t learn of it before the deadline expires or funds run out. He said $8 million isn’t much given the level of need.
“It is a first come, first served basis for this funding and we didn’t want people that we serve being left behind because they didn’t know about it or they didn’t know how to access it, and that’s very likely,” he said.
There’s no income requirement, but generally one has to have put in arrears by the pandemic in order to qualify. Donahue said there is an “other” option on the criteria checklist, allowing people to explain their specific situation.
While the action groups are serving as navigators, the Department of Public Service is managing the program.
According to the DPS, the state has placed a moratorium on utility disconnections until Sept. 30.
Kelly said GMP had imposed a moratorium on disconnections for its customers early on in the pandemic, prior to the state’s imposition, and expects that to hold through the end of the year, at which time the company will assess its situation.