City of Belton to wipe out utility bill debt for residents using COVID relief funds
BELTON, Texas (KWTX) - The City of Belton has allocated money to erase the debts of residents who are behind on utility bill payments.
The City received $5.9 million in COVID relief funds from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan, which allocated $350 billion in funding to support state, local, and tribal governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s really the intent of the money that came to or is coming to all cities - is to get it in the hands of people who need it,” said Mike Rodger, the finance director for the City of Belton.
The Belton City Council on Tuesday, March 22 approved a plan to allocate $100,000 to a one-time utility relief effort. Rodgers said residents who are currently delinquent on city utility bills will see the credit to their account when they receive their April bill.
“By bringing them current, it gives them a fresh start and an opportunity to get current, so we don’t have to cut off their utilities. It’s Christmas in April essentially,” Rodgers said.
The City said that as of Wednesday, there were about 500 residents who were delinquent in paying their utility bills.
One of those residents is Leza Caffey, who has lived in Belton for more then 20 years and currently owes more than $330 in utility fees to the City.
Come April, her account will be current. She says the relief is timely as difficulties from the pandemic, including inflation affecting food and gas and food prices, all made it more difficult for her to meet her basic needs.
“It’s been a struggle already but now the struggle is going to get a little easier,” Caffey said. “It’s just a relief to know that I don’t have to struggle to come up with that money now to pay that bill.”
Following the one-time assistance, the City is also working with United Way to give out an additional $300,000 from its COVID relief funds as part of utility assistance program. While the one-time assistance only covers city utilities (Water, sewer, trash), the utility assistance program through United Way will cover more bills, like electric and gas.
Even after the overdue bills are taken care of the city still has millions of dollars of COVID relief funds left to use. Officials say they plan to spend those funds on small business grants, infrastructure improvements and pay raises for city employees.
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