Senior Voice -

By Ken Stewart
Senior Voice 

Anchorage program assists with electric bills

 

January 1, 2021



Municipality of Anchorage residents have another option for utility relief during the COVID-19 pandemic: The Anchorage Aging & Disability Resource Center’s (ADRC) Utility Assistance Program.

Separate from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), also called the Heating Assistance Program (HAP), the Anchorage ADRC’s Utility Assistance Program works with Chugach Electric customers to cover one electric bill up to $500.

While the Anchorage ADRC assists with the application process, Chugach Electric donates the funds to assist their customers in need. Eligible customers are only offered this benefit once per year and must work with the Anchorage ADRC to determine eligibility.

To be eligible, you must be going through a hardship.

“Unfortunately, most people are considered to be in hardship due to the pandemic,” says Anchorage ADRC resource specialist, Jasmine Rattanavong.

As an ADRC resource specialist, Rattanavong works with community members in the Municipality of Anchorage to match them with rental and utility assistance.

“The ADRC is a one-stop shop,” explains Rattanavong. “If there are any resources community members want to know about, our job at the ADRC is to have knowledge about a little bit of everything. They can just call us, and we can give them all the resources they need at one time, so they’re not making a million different calls.”

Prior to the pandemic, community members needing electric assistance via the Utility Assistance Program would need to schedule an appointment at the Anchorage ADRC office. Due to pandemic restrictions, the Anchorage ADRC has opened their application services via phone. The switch in service has created positive outcomes for many, Rattanavong says.

“People are a lot more thankful because they are in tight situations, so using that last gas money to come down to the health department could be pretty costly, if that’s their last money,” Rattanavong explains.

Currently, the only documentation needed to apply for the Utility Assistance Program with Chugach Electric is the main applicant’s photo ID and the Social Security numbers of every member in the household applying for assistance.

“Chugach Electric has been really awesome at trying to make this as easy as possible,” says Rattanavong. “I fill the application out while on the phone with the applicant, and then turn it in. There’s nothing that the applicant needs to do other than talk to me, and it normally takes 10 to 15 minutes.”

Rising rates

As far as recent trends in electric assistance goes, Rattanavong has noticed a couple patterns in the type of assistance community members are reaching out about.

Chugach Electric recently purchased the other power utility, Municipal Light and Power (ML&P), adding all of ML&P customers in the deal.

“Some customers with an outstanding bill from ML&P have called for assistance,” says Rattanavong. “Eventually, we’ll be able to help those customers that just switched over to Chugach Electric with the application process.”

Whether due to the switch in electric providers or from simply staying home more to weather the pandemic, more community members have noticed an increase in their electric bill.

“A lot of people are staying home, and with the switchover, of course, everything’s going to be a bit higher,” continues Rattanavong, “so I have been getting a few calls from people saying, ‘Hey, my bill went up $20, and I really can’t afford this.’ A big part of my job is to see if they do qualify for another program, like HAP. Or if they are Alaska Native, I refer them to different programs for heating assistance so they can get a little more help on things.”

Coins Can Count

Prior to the pandemic, the Utility Assistance Program also included relief for Alaska Water and Waste Utility (AWWU) customers through the Coins Can Count program. When paying off their monthly bill, any AWWU customer could opt to round up to the nearest dollar amount, donating any change to Coins Can Count.

AWWU customers behind on payments would have received a pink door hanger at their residence in the past, notifying them of a service shut off in 48 hours. With the Coins Can Count program, customers receiving the shut off notice were also instructed to call the Anchorage ADRC to apply to have their bill covered by the donations collected for Coins Can Count.

“However, Coins Can Count is not happening right now,” says Rattanavong. “Instead, AWWU has been having customers call AWWU customer service to set up a payment arrangement. If AWWU opened Coins Can Count, they would have to shut people off. Right now, no one is being shut off, they’re just having customers make payment arrangements.”

Looking forward

Coming in February 2021, the Anchorage ADRC hopes to have their Rental Assistance Program up and running for eligible community members. As with all assistance programs ADRC resource specialists assist with, community members eligible for multiple forms of assistance will always receive help.

“If a person is getting Rental Assistance, and they absolutely cannot pay their Chugach Electric bill and they are eligible for the program,” says Rattanavong, “I am for sure going to help them because the point of the ADRC and the Rental Assistance Program is to prevent homelessness, so whatever someone needs help with, we’re going to try to help them, as long as they’re eligible.”

To connect with Rattanavong or another Anchorage ADRC specialist, call 907-343-7770 or visit http://www.muni.org/departments/health/PHIP/ADRC/ for an overview of services and hours offered by the Anchorage ADRC.

 
 

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