Gov. Cooper announces rent, utility relief programs as families, municipalities struggle with mounting bills

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Governor Cooper announced $175 million in funding for utility and rental payment assistance, as federal unemployment benefits expire and families face mounting difficulties.

"I had a family say 'do I pay my car note that is behind so I that can get to work, or do I pay my rent so that we can have a place to sleep in?' So we're seeing that many individuals are being forced into hotels," said Dr. Terrance Ruth, the president of Justice Love Foundation, a Raleigh-based non-profit organization.

The group is raising money to help families pay bills and day-to-day costs, an initiative they started months ago.

"We can only stand in the gap for a certain period of time before there's a larger conversation that needs to happen at the local, state and federal level around the issue," Ruth said.

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He also said the financial concerns also have an emotional toll on families.

"That anxiety and stress of that decision alone is being transferred to the kids. So now you're seeing the kids respond to the anxiety of their family," Ruth said.

And the financial concerns extends to municipalities as well.

"We had a number of cities end up upwards of 30, 40% delinquencies in their municipalities," said Paul Meyer, the Executive Director of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, which advocates on behalf of towns and cities statewide.

Meyer said utilities operate on razor-thin margins, meaning mass and long-lasting non-payment can have dire consequences.

"The cities are buying that power wholesale and have to make those payments or the city is in default," Meyer said.

He added that this issue even affects those who are able to pay.

"If you have a 40% delinquency rate in a town, on electric let's just say, when the commissioners come back or the council comes back together, they're going to have to raise rates on who's paying," said Meyer.

While Meyer said some payments are now coming into municipalities, they're still being forced to make adjustments.

"We're already seeing cities in their 2020-2021 budgets making cuts all across the gamut of municipal services, and in some communities, where public safety is almost 50% of their budget, we're seeing cutbacks in police and fire. Those are really, really important services for people's livelihood, protection, and quality of life," said Meyer, who referenced similar cuts made following the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper shared details on three programs that will provide $175 million to help North Carolinians with their rent and utility payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the news release, the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency will provide $94 million to support rental and utility payments to prevent evictions for those who have lost their source of income due to COVID-19. The state office will send the funds to local agencies, which will then work directly with residents to help them fill out an application and get their funds.

An additional $53 million will come from the federal Emergency Solutions Grant-Coronavirus program to help families experiencing or in danger of experiencing homelessness.

"Families in crisis don't have time to spare, and our state agencies are coordinating a plan to make it easier for people to get the support they need," said Cooper in a written statement.

In smaller communities, local governments will be given $28 million in federal funding through the North Carolina Department of Commerce to help residents pay rent and utility bills, and obtain access to internet, food and COVID-19 testing.

"Having a stable, safe place to live is fundamental to well-being and health. We continue to prioritize supporting people in meeting basic needs as part of our COVID response," said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen in a written statement.
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