The new federal program gives Buncombe money to prevent water cuts

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It’s meant to make sure people who pay for water and wastewater services aren’t disconnected because of an inability to pay.

The money comes from the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program, a temporary federal emergency relief program started in 2021 and geared toward helping families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Highlights

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  • It also could help Buncombe residents reconnect those services if they’ve been cut.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the state received more than $38 million for new water assistance in December, which it then doled out to counties.

Though commissioners approved the program Jan. 4, people can start applying immediately since the process opened Jan. 3 and will last until September 2023 or until the money is used up.

By the first of January, reports from across the nation showed counties are developing individual strategies to use the money.

Related:Hurting from property tax increase? Buncombe homeowner grants might be revived in FY 2023

After commissioners’ Jan. 4 vote to amend the budget and allow the program, Buncombe will receive $452,172 and $69,991 of that can be used for administration, according to a memo presented to commissioners by budget department employee John Hudson. From Buncombe, the money will go to Eblen Charities, which then will provide money directly to local water and wastewater service providers, Hudson said.

Before the board voted unanimously to amend the budget to allow for this program, Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara asked how people interested in getting money can participate. More:Millions in COVID-19 aid: Buncombe leaders asking public how to spend funds

Hudson said the application process for this program will go through Buncombe County Health and Human services and said anyone interested could contact BCHHS for more information at 828-250-5500 or via email through its webpage at buncombecounty.org. “Eblen also already does our low-income heating assistance program,” Hudson noted. “They have worked with many of the same folks who might be impacted by this particular program.”

Have income equal to or less than 150% of the federal poverty level.Have household services that are disconnected, in jeopardy of disconnection or have a current outstanding bill.Be responsible for the water bill. “Due to the pandemic and its impact on our economy, many households are struggling to maintain their water service,” NCDHHS Deputy Secretary for Employment, Inclusion and Economic Stability Tara Myers said in a Jan. 3 statement. “LIHWAP will continue to help families in North Carolina keep their water running, a basic human need that’s critical for good sanitation and better health.”

According to qualification guidance from NCDHHS, to be eligible for the water assistance program, a household must have at least one U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen and: The program is broad, extending to anyone in the county who has water or wastewater services that could be cut off.