The Board of Public Utilities is planning a new program for a KERA application assistance service line.
BPU General Manager Bill Johnson said during the Wednesday night BPU meeting that the BPU would help customers with their applications for the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program, which provides utility funding for Kansas residents who are renters.
He said he was following up on recent board discussions where BPU members suggested more assistance for the program.
KERA is a state program that distributes federal funds that were intended to go toward rental and utility relief for those with hardships caused by COVID-19. At several previous BPU meetings, community activists said the application process was difficult, and some residents did not have access to technology required for it.
Patrice Townsend, director of utility services, will serve as administrator for this new program, Johnson said.
She previously worked with BPU customers on the smart energy program he said.
Johnson said the BPU’s program will set up a dedicated phone line and email address. Customers will have a way to call BPU if there is a need for assistance with the application, he said.
The BPU’s program will first determine if the person qualifies for the program, then assist with getting the application completed, and review a checklist to make sure all proper documentation is included.
There is also discussion that the Unified Government may assign a person to assist with the program, as well, Johnson said.
Some community organizations are KERA-funded partners, and Townsend will reach out to those agencies to coordinate, he said.
Johnson mentioned that the UG Commission recently allocated $1.8 million through American Rescue Plan Act federal funds to housing and utility assistance. The BPU is reaching out to them to ask how many dollars will be allocated to utility assistance programs, he said.
Johnson also said that Townsend and David Mehlhaff, BPU chief communications officer, are working on developing additional marketing messages for this promotion. They are working on new fliers, a news release, social media posts and information for the BPU website, he said. They are also looking for opportunities to speak to community groups about the program.
According to information presented by Johnetta Hinson, BPU executive director of customer service, there were four KERA applications from BPU customers approved in May, 75 in June and 182 in July. The BPU received over $1,400 in May, over $77,000 in June and over $105,000 in July from KERA.
BPU member Tom Groneman said the program will be a benefit for BPU customers. It’s a win-win situation for the utility and customers, he said. They need to look beyond the KERA program for utility assistance the UG is setting aside, coordinate with them and make sure people are being taken care of, he said.
Board member Rose Mulvany Henry said it will make a tremendous difference in the community.
Board member Ryan Eidson also thanked Townsend for stepping up and taking on the KERA project. The BPU needs to take advantage of the program if it can, he said. The BPU has been dealing with the KERA issues for about seven months, he said.
Board member Mary Gonzales offered to work as an advocate for the BPU to get funds coming into the UG.
At this time, the KERA program is for renters. Applications for the KERA program are online at https://kshousingcorp.org/emergency-rental-assistance/.