By Steve Costello
Editor’s note: Steve Costello is the vice president of Green Mountain Power.
Time and again, Vermonters amaze and inspire with their kindness and generosity — from our communities’ strength seen throughout Vermont during the 10th anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene just last month, to the seemingly endless acts of kindness that have connected and sustained so many during the tough days of this Covid-19 emergency.
Now, neighbors can help neighbors again by ensuring that all know about the limited Covid-19 relief funds set aside to assist Vermonters to fully recover by getting caught up on overdue utility balances tied to the pandemic.
The state of Vermont is currently running two programs through the Dept. of Public Service and Vermont State Housing Authority to help those currently behind on their utility bills. This is grant money for businesses, renters and homeowners that does not need to be repaid, and it can be used for overdue power, landline phone, natural gas, water and, in some cases, rent bills. Individuals can see up to $10,000 in overdue utility bills forgiven, and businesses may be eligible for up to $50,000 in utility assistance.
At Green Mountain Power alone, about 29,000 customers would qualify for these grants. They are families, farms and businesses carrying more than $22 million in debt. In many cases, it is a crushing amount of debt for individual families and businesses, and that’s why lawmakers set aside this Covid-19 relief funding to help Vermonters get back on track.
We know that completing an application for assistance is one more thing in an already busy life, and some Vermonters who qualify for help have told us they think someone else deserves the money more than they do. Yet, for those customers who have applied and received assistance, we have heard a great sense of relief and gratitude. Several dairy farmers were literally in tears when they learned their applications for help were approved. That relief is why these programs are here.
So what’s the ask of you, reading this op-ed? Spread the word about help available. Only about 15% of customers who would qualify for debt relief have applied so far, and the clock is ticking — applications are set to close Oct. 25, and could close sooner if the money runs out.
You may not need the assistance yourself, but someone you care about may be one of those Vermonters who does and hasn’t heard about these programs or know where to go for help. Please share information about these programs to help your neighbors recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic and rebuild their financial health.
The details about the two programs are available on the Vermont Dept. of Public Service website (publicservice.vermont.gov) and we’ve shared this information directly with customers. Community action agencies are assisting folks in the application process. We are also here to help, and you can call us at 888-835-4672.