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Woodward to propose six-month transition period for utility payments in Spokane

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 24, 2021

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward talks to media on Sept. 13 at the Spokane Convention Center.  (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward talks to media on Sept. 13 at the Spokane Convention Center. (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward on Monday will propose six more months of a pause on city utility shutoffs.

A statewide moratorium on all utility disconnections, enacted by Gov. Jay Inslee in March 2020, is set to expire at the end of the month. As the pandemic drags on, the city has more than 7,500 utility customers in arrears, with an outstanding debt totaling $6.5 million.

“We want to offer help to our customers who are trying to recover from the pandemic,” Woodward told The Spokesman-Review.

Woodward will ask the City Council to approve a six-month extension of the moratorium on shutoffs for those who have fallen behind. The policy would cover only city utilities – water, wastewater, stormwater and solid waste collection – not private utilities like electric and gas service.

Woodward plans to allow customers six months – until the end of March 2022 – to at least set up an interest-free repayment plan before shutoffs resume. Late fees would not begin to accumulate until November 2022.

Of the $6.5 million the city is owed, about $4.9 million is from residential customers.

“When you have 7,500 accounts (overdue) and people have not been able to keep up on their payments, I think we have to offer more grace to our customers and know that even though we’re this far into the pandemic, people are still hurting,” Woodward said.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said he shares the mayor’s concern for “people who are in a jam.”

“I’m sure council would be interested in collaborating on something,” Beggs said.

For tenants, Inslee extended a separate eviction “bridge” proclamation this week, in part to allow local governments more time to distribute rental assistance.

That process is well underway in the city of Spokane, according to city officials, but more money remains available for renters who have fallen behind.

As of Aug. 31, the city had paid out $4.3 million to 702 households through the Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance program. That covered 4,749 months of rent.

Another $1.3 million in rental assistance has been approved but not yet distributed, according to the city.

To qualify for rental assistance, a person must be a city resident, have experienced financial hardship related to the pandemic, be at risk of housing instability and earn no more than 80% of the area median income.

The city tapped LiveStories, Family Promise of Spokane and the Carl Maxey Center to distribute the funds. The Carl Maxey Center has already used its portion of the funding, which prioritized rental and utility assistance for African American and Black, Indigenous and households of people of color . LiveStories is open to all eligible tenants, while Family Promise is distributing funds to households with children.

City residents can access rental assistance on the city’s website at my.spokanecity.org/covid19/resident-assistance/.

Tenants and residential property owners can request utility assistance through the city’s U-Help program by calling Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners, or SNAP, at (509)456-SNAP.

To set up an interest-free utility repayment plan, city customers can apply on the city’s website at https://my.spokanecity.org/publicworks/utility-billing/repayment-plan/.

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