Clinton Township ‘opts in’ to water-sewer assistance program

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published September 4, 2020

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Clinton Township has “opted in” to a water and sewer utility assistance program that aims to benefit vulnerable residents who may be struggling or delinquent with bill payments since the onset of COVID-19.

As part of Michigan Senate Bill 690, about $25 million has been allocated statewide for utility relief. Communities, like Clinton Township, have the ability to “opt in” or “opt out” based on their relative situations, taking into account the amount of work, staffing and personnel available.

Arrearages as part of this program, which is currently slated to continue until Dec. 1, are only available to residents who receive food assistance, as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. They are eligible as long as arrearages occurred on or after March 1 of this year, when COVID-19 became formidable nationwide.

Arrearages incurred prior to March 1 will not be covered by this program. In this case, arrearages refer to any overdue bills related to water and sewer services.

Residents do not apply for assistance as part of this program. Rather, utility providers will determine if residents are eligible based on communication with the township.

“We will send (utility companies) any of our current water bills that are overdue, we’ll send them those addresses,” Township Public Services Director Mary Bednar said. “They’ll cross-reference them with their database and from there let us know who qualifies.”

Water utility providers will be reimbursed by local community action agencies. Each eligible resident is able to receive up to $700 per utility, or $1,400 total for water and sewer arrearages.

Bednar said that if residents are eligible, they will likely not receive checks. Communication will primarily be with utility companies, with finite details still being worked out.

There are about 5,000 residential homeowners who receive food assistance, Bednar said, but the amount who have delinquent bills is unknown.

She said the township does shut off commercial business’ water if bills are not paid, but small-family residential homes have not been shut off in her near two decades in the township. Usually, residential customers who do not pay water bills received an added line on their taxes for payment.

At this point in time, the program is in its infancy and questions remain. Bednar said that since the Board of Trustees already approved the program, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, the township is likely to continue on this path.

“If we were to find this for some reason is detrimental to the community, my understanding is that we can opt out,” she said. “Unfortunately, a lot of things are happening really fast.”

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