Community Shines in a Year of Need
“Connecting customers in need with resources for financial assistance is an important part of what we do,” said Amy Yost, Customer Solutions Senior Manager. Economic challenges related to the pandemic have caused an increase in the number of people nationwide who have difficulty paying bills. Holland BPW observed this pattern as more customers applied for financial assistance than in prior years. However, with more customers seeking assistance, fewer than average shut-offs occurred. Holland BPW’s two assistance programs helped over 325 customers this past year, which is an increase of 22%. The funds distributed increased by 38%. On top of that, the amount of state funding distributed to Holland BPW customers increased as well.
“We encourage customers to contact us as soon as there are concerns about paying their Holland BPW bill,” explained Yost. “Our customer service representatives are knowledgeable about the help that is available. We work closely with our customers and state agencies to provide assistance to avoid utility shut-offs.” Throughout the pandemic, Holland BPW aims to make it clear that help is available and the first step is to contact us. “We spread the message through a variety of ways including a bill stuffer, social media, hollandbpw.com, and the MyHBPW portal”, said Julie DeCook, Communications Specialist.
Utility Assistance Grants and Funds
State and federal funds, for example the COVID Relief Fund and the Cares Act, are distributed through designated local agencies. In Holland, Community Action Agency and Salvation Army are the administrators of federal and state grants. The State of Michigan has an income-based grant program that is available annually from April – October. Holland BPW Customer Service Representatives can help qualified customers work with these agencies to access utility assistance funds.
To help customers avoid large sums accumulated during the winter non-shut off season, Holland BPW offers assistance through the grant program. A second program, Promise Funds, is available year-round.
The income threshold for Promise Funds is higher than the grant program. Promise funds are available for people who meet an income requirement and have a good payment history. A set amount of money is posted to the service account. Customers request when they want to use the Promise Funds based on their individual needs.
The grant program is BPW’s response to help customers facing financial challenges during the winter months, when state funding is not available. Holland BPW’s grant program can help qualified customers avoid a backlog of winter bills.
Local private donations are occasionally given to help struggling residents. In a typical year it is not unusual to see several private donations come through with requests to take care of another household’s utility bill. “We see neighbors helping neighbors in times of need. This year, we saw many more personal donations. It is moving to see people make a difference in someone else’s life,” said Yost. “Paying someone’s utility bill is a generous way to ease someone’s burden by taking care of an essential need.”
RAND Education and Labor. (2020, December 17). Financial Woes Grow Worse Over Course of Coronavirus Pandemic; More Families Report Trouble Paying Bills. RAND. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://www.rand.org/news/press/2020/12/17.html