'I have a terminally ill son. I can't be shut off:' Renters worry about power disconnections as they wait for HOPE funds

Our I-Team continues to press state leaders for answers tracking down the money when it comes to the HOPE Program, the state's rental and utility assistance program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABC11 viewers continue to reach out to Troubleshooter Diane Wilson, frustrated that their power got disconnected or their landlord is threatening eviction while they wait for HOPE money.

"If they say they're going to help people, c'mon help us," said Bridget Irwin.

She's a Fayetteville resident and applied with HOPE when it opened up to applicants last fall.

She was approved for both rental and utility assistance.

She and her landlord signed all of the HOPE agreements and waited. Out of the blue, she got a call from her power company.

"They called me and said if it's not in by Monday morning they have to cut my power off," Irwin said.

The threat of her power disconnected worried her.

"I have a terminally ill son. I can't be shut off," she said.

She said that her son's nebulizer requires electricity to work.

"I have a terminally ill son, and I have gotten a six-month life expectancy with him. I am already stressing about his health and now I have to stress over this?"

While she was approved for utility assistance through HOPE, the amount they agreed to pay was not made, so her bill climbed to more than $700.

She says she was told by her power company that if she made any payments, they would not be able to accept HOPE funding.

"I am getting more behind by waiting on the HOPE Program," she said.

Rocky Mount resident Natasha Terry had her power disconnected while she was waiting for HOPE funding.

"I was sitting there the other day and they just shut it off no notice, no phone calls," she said. "It is frustrating because we think it's been paid because no one has contacted us but then utilities get cut off."

She called the power company to see if she could make a partial payment but says they told her not to.

"No, if you accept payment arrangements then we can't accept their money when they pay it so she said don't pay anything," she said.

Administrators of HOPE are aware of the issues and say payments have been made to utility companies.

"They got the check in a lump sum for many applicants and they may not have applied correctly the dollars to the correct applicant. So we are working through those one by one," said Laura Hogshead with the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which oversees HOPE.

She says now her staff is working with the utility companies.

"We are physically on the phone with the utility company making sure the correct applicant is getting the credit for that award," she said.

Other changes to the HOPE Program include not working with their community partners.

"Recently what is changed is that we've taken all the files back from our community partners. We have all the visibility we need now that the files are physically with the in-core office," she said.

She says her community partners were a great addition when the program first opened to handle the overwhelming number of applicants, but now that they have it under control, HOPE can handle the cases that are left to be awarded.
As for landlords waiting on HOPE money that are threatening tenants with eviction, Hogshead says: "We are making all the payments we can as soon as we have all the documents in hand, what I will say is the moment the landlord signs our landlord-tenant agreement they have signed up to protect that tenant, so protection comes with the agreement and the check follows."

Landlords have had to be patient. In January we told you how many were frustrated with the lack of payments from HOPE.

A month later there were more frustrations as HOPE had only paid $59.4 million to landlords and utility companies. Now a month later, that number has increased to $99.3 million of the more than $140.5 million awarded.

These funds are only the first round of aid from the government. The state is expected to still get an additional $545 million for the next phase of the HOPE Program.

Hogshead says her department is working as hard as they can to get ready to open HOPE up to new applicants once that funding comes through.

"We are still hiring," she said. "We are getting to the end of that effort, so we are adding 110 staff for this next round of funding and as of last night we are at 99 of those 110."

After we brought these cases to HOPE's attention, Irwin's utility payment was made by HOPE, so her utilities will not be shut off. Meanwhile, her landlord is still waiting for his HOPE money but Irwin says a representative with HOPE says it's on the way.

As for Natasha Terry, HOPE also contacted her letting her know they paid the utility company but for some reason it has not been credited to her account.
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