Assistance program aids water customers

Published 2:59 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

JACKSON – A temporary emergency assistance program – modeled after a previous federal program – will help eligible Northampton County citizens afford water and wastewater services.

The Northampton County Board of Commissioners approved the proposal at their regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 3 after a presentation by County Manager Julian Phillips.

Phillips explained that the proposed Northampton County Water Assistance Program (NHCWAP) would provide a one-time payment for eligible low-income households directly to the utility company. The maximum amount is $600 per household.

To be eligible, the household must have at least one US citizen or eligible non-citizen with the following: income equal to or less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level; have household services that are disconnected, in jeopardy of disconnection, or have a current outstanding bill; and is responsible for the water bill.

During the pandemic, the county’s Department of Social Services (DSS) offered a federal program with the same eligibility requirements. But that federal program is no longer active.

“Basically, this mimics the same program,” Phillips noted.

The proposal stated that NHCWAP will operate with an appropriation of $60,000 each fiscal year, and will run until the funds are exhausted.

“I got that figure from the DSS Director,” Phillips explained, but added that not every household will need the maximum funding amount.

Following the presentation, the commissioners had the opportunity to discuss the details of the new program.

Board Chair Charles Tyner asked if Northampton DSS will be in charge of implementing the program, and Phillips confirmed that would be the case.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner wanted assurance that payments would be handled quickly for citizens who qualify for the program. The county manager confirmed that the program would have a policy in place to ensure it runs smoothly.

Commissioner Kelvin Edwards asked about the appropriation amount, suggesting that they should only appropriate $30,000 for the current fiscal year which is already halfway over. Phillips said it was up to the board’s discretion to start the program now or wait until the new fiscal year.

Commissioner Ed Martin wanted to know which account the funds would be appropriated from. Phillips replied that they have $400,000 in the county’s contingency fund to draw from for this fiscal year.

“I think this is very proactive in helping citizens,” stated Edwards in support.

He motioned to approve NHCWAP, beginning with a $30,000 appropriation for the current fiscal year and then a $60,000 appropriation for the following years.

Commissioner Melvetta Broadnax Taylor provided the second.

The vote was unanimously in favor.

This new assistance program comes on the heels of another which was approved by the commissioners during their December meeting. That program allows residents, who have certified contaminated wells, a one-time option to pay the water tap fee in monthly installments instead of the entire amount up-front.