As the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic ripple through Spokane households, an electricity, water or trash-collection bill might not take precedence over rent and groceries.
But help is within reach.
On Tuesday, the city of Spokane and its partners announced a utility bill support program for people struggling to make ends meet during the strict “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Every dollar donated to the program will be matched with another from Avista Corp. and a third from the city of Spokane itself.
The proceeds will be split between the city’s UHelp program and the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program’s Project Share. Both programs are aimed at helping struggling Spokane residents pay their utility bills.
“I am so pleased to see our community come together to help our families pay for their utilities,” Mayor Nadine Woodward said in a statement.
Avista and the city of Spokane already had suspended utility shutoffs temporarily for nonpayment and the collection of late fees, as waves of Spokane-area residents endure layoffs, school closures and economic uncertainty.
The city’s UHelp funding is frequently distributed by the Salvation Army of Spokane, which has partnered in the effort. Salvation Army Maj. Ken Perine said his biggest concern is that when the moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs end, there will be a surge in people needing assistance who fell behind on payments.
“That’s all going to hit at the same time; that’s why we’re encouraging people to make the donations now,” Perine said. “It’s going to be a mess if we’re not planning ahead.”
SNAP’s Project Share program offers help to utility customers who do not qualify for federal heating assistance or other utility assistance programs. It provides support on an emergency basis of up to $300 for homes heated by electricity or natural gas and up to $400 for those heated by propane, pellets, oil or coal, according to SNAP’s website.
Similarly, the city’s UHelp program provides one-time assistance to low-income residents who need help paying their city water, sewer and garbage bills.
Perine advocated that people prioritize paying rent and utilities because, even though evictions and shutoffs aren’t enforced right now, bills can still accumulate. Those struggling to make ends meet can always reach out to the Salvation Army for food, he said.
“Don’t spend money on groceries, come to us,” Perine said.
The Salvation Army’s food bank at 204 E. Indiana Ave. is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Donations to the utility assistance program can be made at spokaneutilityhelp.org.
Those in need of assistance are encouraged to reach out to SNAP at (509) 456-SNAP.
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