Anne Arundel County is experiencing an explosion of late water bills—from 1,000 at this time last year to 20,000 today, said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman at a press conference Thursday morning October 22.
Water bills may often be seen as an almost benign obligation of being a homeowner, but it is believed that the tens of thousands of county residents who are past-due on their payments, are struggling with the economic impacts of the coronavirus.
While a regular water bill may seem mundane to most, not paying it can have a disastrous impact on the circumstances of local families. It can lead to water service being shut off and even the foreclosure on the home.
“Water bills don’t seem like a big deal to most of us because we pay them along with some of our other bills and, compared to some of the others their not as large,” Pittman said “But when we heard that there were 20,000 delinquent water bills and that the law requires that they go into foreclosure proceedings—we have to collect..
“The question was can we use some of our CARES money to provide assistance to those families? Through Anne Arundel Community Development Services we have a system set up to actually pay these bills for folks.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included over 2 trillion dollars to aid Americans during the pandemic. Anne Arundel County received $100 million in aid.
In expanding its support system to help county residents cope with the impact of the coronavirus, the county focused on three areas Thursday:
The new services include:
Enhanced contact tracing and case management to provide wraparound services for COVID-positive individuals and families; (covid care coordination program: $140,500)
Expanded grief counseling and mental health support for survivors of COVID; (covid recovery and grief support program: 185,650)
Financial relief for families with delinquent water bills, which in some instances is a leading indicator of eventual foreclosure. (water bill relief program: $2 million)
“When COVID-19 hit our county in March we had no way of knowing that six months later we’d have 20,000 residents unable to pay their water bills, “ said Karen Henry, with the county’s department of public works. “The Water Bill Relief Program will provide assistance with water and wastewater bills to customers who have been economically impacted by COVID-19. This program will help prevent DPW fro m having to turn of water due to nonpayment. It will also help prevent tax sales for residents with unpaid water or wastewater bills.”
To be eligible you must be an Anne Arundel County resident residing in your own home of
120 percent or below of the area median income, and you have to had had your income negatively effected by the pandemic, said Kathleen Koch, executive director of Arundel Community Development Services. The aid is for delinquent water bills beginning March 1, 2020.
Applications are being mailed to the 20,000 clients who are late on their payments. You can also get information on this program by going to www.acds.inc.org.
“Look for it in the mail,” Koch said. “Funds will be made (available) on a first-come, first-served basis. If you think you are eligible, we encourage you to get that application into us as soon as possible. “
Applications must be to us by December 15, 2020.
Koch said a large response is expected so residents are encouraged to be patient. “
“We will get back to you, and we encourage you to communicate with us through an email. The email address is WBRP@ACDSINC.org,” she said.
Applications for water bill assistance are currently being mailed to all residential customers who are in Individuals may also apply for a payment plan through the Office of Finance by calling 410-222-1144 (TTY users please call via Maryland Relay 7-1-1) or visit email@example.com
Public Health Officer Doctor Nilesh Kalykanaraman spoke on the new covid care coordination program:
“During this time, when people are struggling, some people need additional support, and the COVID Care Coordination Program is an extension of the health department’s contact tracing program,” he said.
“It’ll support vulnerable individuals and their families to navigate resources and complex systems after the initial 14 days of isolation quarantine period. It’s an opportunity in our county to address health disparities, and prevent furthering economic disparities in communities disproportionately effected by COVID. This is a collaboration with the Department of Children, Youth and Families and the Department of Aging and Disabilities.”
Additional funding will support access to grief counseling for individuals and family members who are coping with the loss of loved ones, some of whom died alone in a facility. The COVID Recovery and Grief Support Program will provide additional funding to expand mental health and grief counseling services for survivors and families who have suffered devastating loss from COVID.
Adrienne Mickler, executive director of Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency.spoke on the COVID Recovery and Grief Support System:
“Individuals and families have experienced many types of loss during this pandemic—lost
employment, lost freedom due to isolation , missing once-in-a-lifetime milestones surrounded by family and friends. These funds will help to alleviate those barriers, and provide the emergent care appointments, but most importantly the follow-up treatment that is needed.”
For additional information about all COVID relief programs and resources please visit www.aacounty.org