Co-ops share state’s COVID-19 resources
Amid all the uncertainty and tumult of 2020, the lights have stayed on.
Yet, for electric cooperatives in Kentucky, reliability and resilience are not only tied to power lines and transformers, but to the people they serve.
“It’s important for each consumer-member to know that—even as the COVID-19 pandemic shuts down businesses and schools—your co-op is still here,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives.
“Your local co-op wants to work with anyone who might be struggling to pay their bill. Co-ops want to help. They are creating payment plans for residential customers and have waived late fees through December 31.”
Local co-ops have been diligent in consistently communicating with members throughout the crisis. In the pages of Kentucky Living; on social media and co-op websites; and in phone calls and letters, co-ops have worked to connect anxious members with resources and information.
One key partnership is with Community Action Kentucky, linking local co-op members with the commonwealth’s 23 Community Action agencies. As eligibility increased for traditional Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds, co-ops have served as important conduits of that updated information.
Through December 11 or until funds are depleted, Community Action agencies are accepting applications for the subsidy component of LIHEAP, designed to help low-income Kentuckians offset home heating costs based on a household’s income and primary fuel type. Benefits are paid directly to the primary fuel vendor in the form of a voucher. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, income eligibility has been increased to 150% of the U.S. federal poverty level.
“As we head into winter, the LIHEAP program will provide much-needed security for thousands of Kentucky households,” says Roger McCann, executive director of Community Action Kentucky. “This year it will be even more important for those that are affected by the COVID pandemic.”
Community Action Kentucky is also administering two other resources: Team Kentucky Fund and the Healthy at Home Utility Relief Fund.
Big demand for help
Since it was launched in May, more than 2,500 families have been assisted by the Team Kentucky Fund, spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman.
Expecting $3.7 million in donations to be exhausted once current applications are processed, the state closed the fund to new applications on November 16. Community Action Kentucky will continue working with Kentuckians who have an outstanding application with the Team Kentucky Fund, Coleman says.
Helping Kentuckians whose employment has been affected by COVID-19, the fund has been largely sustained by fellow Kentuckians donating, on average, about $100.
“This spirit is what makes Kentucky special,” Coleman says. “It’s neighbors caring for one another. I see it every day in my roles as a mom, teacher and lieutenant governor.”
Healthy at Home Utility Relief
Meanwhile, an October executive order by Governor Andy Beshear lifted the state’s moratorium on utility disconnects for non-payment and designated $15 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for the Healthy at Home Utility Relief Fund. The new fund is intended to provide relief for Kentuckians at risk of natural gas, water, wastewater or electric service disconnection.
Speaking to a virtual conference of Kentucky co-op communicators, Coleman shared stories of Kentuckians who have been helped by the Team Kentucky Fund, including a northern Kentucky couple with 3-year-old twins.
“The father lost his job when the restaurant where he worked closed due to COVID,” Coleman says. “With their internet service shut off for non-payment, and libraries closed, Community Action Kentucky mailed them a paper application and helped them complete the application. Through the Team Kentucky Fund, they received assistance with their rent, electric, water bill and $200 in food.”
Coleman thanks Community Action Kentucky for their partnership.
“I said they would be the hands and feet of the Team Kentucky Fund, and that has turned out to be true,” Lt. Gov. Coleman says. “For every $1 given to the Team Kentucky Fund, Community Action Kentucky has leveraged their existing programs to provide a total of $2.22 to Kentucky families. That is a tremendous return on investment.”
Though hopes are high that recently announced COVID-19 vaccines will begin the end of the pandemic, Kentucky’s electric cooperatives recognize that the economic toll will likely be felt for a long time.
“Because electric cooperatives are dedicated to improving the lives of their local members, we are proud to advance any effort that connects local consumer-members with the resources that can help,” Perry says. “As the governor often says, ‘We’re going to get through this. And we’re going to get through this together.’ That’s what co-ops are all about.”
Healthy at Home Utility Relief Fund
Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
To Apply: CAPKy.org, call (800) 456-3452 or contact your local Community Action agency office.
United Way or call 211