File-Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer

Louisville mayor Greg Fischer arrives to speak at a press conference June 6, 2016, in Louisville. (AP Photo/David Goldman) Content Exchange

(The Center Square) - Officials in Louisville, Kentucky, have proposed allocating $10 million in funding to help residents who have struggled to pay utility bills due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Under the plan, which requires Metro Council approval, the city’s Office of Resilience and Community Service would receive the funding to help customers behind on water and sewer as well as gas and electric bills. If passed, customers who attest to enduring an economic hardship would receive a one-time credit for an as yet uncertain amount. 

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, in unveiling the proposal Monday, said the metropolitan area has seen more than 36,000 jobs cut over the past year. About 8,000 of those coming from the hospitality industry. 

“As a result, thousands of our neighbors are in a financial crisis, many for the first time. They want to pay their bills but simply cannot keep up, and every month, they become increasingly behind in paying for these vital services,” he said. “Our goal here is to help them steady the ship.” 

The money for the program would come from the city’s general fund. That money became available after Louisville received CARES Act funding to cover other funding requirements. 

Councilman Markus Winkler, one of the sponsors of the ordinance that would approve the spending, said the federal government needs to provide more relief for families. 

“This failure of leadership pushes the burden on local communities and as such we must do our part to ensure families can maintain access to basic services such as water and heat as we head into the winter,” Winkler said. 

Kentucky, like other states, had issued a moratorium on utility providers from cutting off customers unable to pay their bills. However, that ended last month, and customers were still responsible for catching up on their past due accounts. The one-time allotments, if approved, may not cover the past due amount for every customer. Fischer said those residents will need to contact the utilities to find other ways to help catch up. 

Louisville Gas & Electric reports about 38,000 residential customers are behind on their bills. The average amount past due is more than $400. 

“This has been a challenging year, and we appreciate the additional funding being allocated to those having difficulty paying their utility bills,” said LG&E President and CEO Paul Thompson. “We have been working with our customers to establish longer term payment arrangements to get them to stronger economic times. This additional assistance certainly supports our efforts.” 

Before Gov. Andy Beshear closed nonessential businesses because of the virus back in late March, the Louisville Water Co. reported about 1,900 customers were behind. Through Oct. 29, that number has skyrocketed to 18,000 in the city. Those customers owe on average $430. 

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