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News >  Spokane

Spokane urges residents, businesses to tap into utility bill assistance

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 27, 2020

Alex Mizner pulls a trash bin over to a rear-loading garbage truck on Jan. 26, 2018, in an alley in north Spokane.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
Alex Mizner pulls a trash bin over to a rear-loading garbage truck on Jan. 26, 2018, in an alley in north Spokane. (JESSE TINSLEY)

Rent, electricity, water and waste removal.

Bills are adding up, and many are falling behind. About 2,400 more city residents were past due on their city utility bills in June compared with January, according to city spokeswoman Marlene Feist.

So as the coronavirus continues to stall the economy, the city of Spokane is urging residents and local businesses to tap into its utility assistance program.

Shortly after the pandemic forced a dramatic shutdown across Washington, the city, Avista and nonprofit partners collaborated on an effort that raised more than $150,000 for utility assistance, half of which was dedicated to city utilities.

The funding was set aside for local residents and businesses as many were hurt by the restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The state has imposed a moratorium on utility shutoffs that lasts at least until October, but the unpaid debt can still accrue.

This week, the city said it’s still ready and able to offer help.

Low-income residents can apply for utility assistance through the U-Help, a program that offers help on city utilities like water, sewer and garbage collection. Since the pandemic began, $67,000 in U-Help assistance has been doled out to households, according to the city.

U-Help is not a coronavirus-specific aid program and has existed for years, but has become more flexible since the pandemic began. About $99,000 remains in the U-Help account for local assistance, according to the city.

The city is also allowing residents who have fallen behind on their bills to apply for a long-term repayment plan, free of interest charges. The application can be completed on the city’s website.

Likewise, businesses struggling to keep up with utilities can apply for a deferral and craft a repayment plan, free of interest, with the city.

“The pandemic has certainly created a financial hardship for many of our customers,” Public Works Director Scott Simmons said in a statement. “We want to reach out and let people know their options.”

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