Question: I am trying to help a neighbor find some relief funds for household bills. To put it kindly, she is not very organized, but she is a law-abiding, hardworking person who has been brought down low by this pandemic, with a lack of work, losing health insurance, etc. I am trying to find her some help because she seems to have missed the deadlines for CARES Act grants for household relief, etc. She doesn’t belong to any group that gets special help and is struggling on her own.
Answer: Thank you for trying to help your neighbor. We’ll provide phone numbers and online links for various programs at the end of the column, but first, we’ll highlight a program that is scheduled to start accepting applications at 8 a.m. on Monday. It’s called the Hawaii Utility Bill Assistance Program, and it will pay a total of $750 toward an eligible residential customer’s overdue electric, water, sewer or gas bill. The money can be used on one outstanding bill or split among several, according to the Aloha United Way, which will administer the grants with $2 million in initial funding from Hawaiian Electric. Other donors, whether companies or individuals, are invited to contribute.
The application will be posted at auw.org/utilityhelp, where you can find background information now to help your friend prepare to apply. Here are key points, from AUW’s website and a news release from Hawaiian Electric.
>> The program will be open to qualified residential customers living full time on Oahu, Hawaii island, Maui, Molokai, Lanai or Kauai who can demonstrate they are unable to pay an overdue bill from an electric, gas, water and/or sewer utility participating in the program. A list of the participating utilities is accessible from the link above.
>> This program will not pay cable, phone or internet bills. It is for overdue electric, gas, water and/or sewer bills only.
>> Likewise, it will not pay bills for commercial (business) customers; it’s for residential customers only.
>> To be eligible, the applicant must submit copies of past-due allowable utility bills that include the applicant’s name, service address and past-due amount. The bills must match the applicant’s name and address as stated on the application. The bills must have been issued by the utility.
>> The maximum household benefit is $750, which can be split among multiple utilities and will be paid directly to the utilities.
>> People whose utilities are included in their rent won’t be eligible, even if their rent is past due, according to the AUW website. “To qualify for this program, you must be able to upload a past-due utility bill with your name and residential service address,” it says.
>> Processing times will vary by county.
As mentioned, Hawaiian Electric is initially funding the program, which will operate on a first-come, first-served basis until all funds are disbursed, according to its news release. Anyone who would like to make a charitable donation to expand the funding may do so on the program’s AUW webpage.
Hawaiian Electric said that more than 16,000 of its 412,000 residential customers, or about 4%, are at least 90 days behind on their bills, carrying an average balance of about $1,500. The company has suspended service disconnections for nonpayment through March 31.
As your question indicated, some pandemic-era relief programs expired at the end of 2020, leaving people scrambling as the state’s rollout of federally funded unemployment benefits such as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (the 11-week extension) and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation also have lagged.
Hawaii’s Department of Human Services lists information on its website that your friend may find useful, including about medical coverage (Med-Quest), money for food (SNAP), and other assistance. Check the links at https://humanserv ices.hawaii.gov/.
For Oahu residents, the webpage oneoahu.org/ resources is easy to navigate and connects to information about an array of assistance for people struggling through the pandemic.
You mentioned that your neighbor “has been brought down low” by the pandemic, so we’ll repeat the number for the National Suicide Prevention Life, 800-273-8255. Help is available 24 hours a day.
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email email@example.com.