So far, BPU not receiving any payments from state program
More than 1,900 Board of Public Utilities customers are eligible to be disconnected for nonpayment, according to BPU officials at Wednesday night’s board meeting.
Bill Johnson, BPU general manager, said only about 130 BPU customers have made applications so far to the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance (KERA) program for electric utility payment assistance, far fewer than the number of people who could be facing disconnection.
He said BPU is continuing to work with the state, and it is the second week the BPU has received a report from the program.
The BPU is still requesting customers to notify them when they have filed an application for KERA assistance, and also when they receive notification from KERA that they are approved, according to Johnson. He said the BPU wants customers to make payment arrangements.
“What they want to make sure is nobody drops through the cracks,” he said at the meeting. They’re in the process of matching the KERA weekly reports with information in the system, and if there is any information missing, they want to make sure it gets corrected, he said.
Johnson said the BPU is looking at extending the 30-day grace period or window that BPU customers receive on shutoffs when they apply for KERA assistance. The BPU has not yet received any funding from KERA on the 130 applications, he said.
Johnetta Hinson, executive director of BPU customer service, said the BPU hasn’t received any payments yet from the state for the KERA program, and no notifications of when the applicants will be told if they will receive state assistance.
There is one BPU customer whose 30-day grace period on the KERA application will be over next week, she said. She said the state is saying another three weeks to 30 days.
“We probably do need to look at another 30 days,” Hinson said.
BPU board member Rose Mulvany Henry said she knows BPU officials recognize there has been a hiccup on the front end of the state plan. She said BPU needs to reevaluate its process at BPU considering the hiccups going on at the state level. It doesn’t mean customers aren’t getting approved for the state plan, it just means they are delayed, she added. She said she probably didn’t expect the new KERA program to work within the first 30 days.
Johnson said BPU is having those conversations now about extending the grace period. Also, he said customers need to pay whatever they can. If they continue to use the services, their bill continues to build up, he said.
They are looking at another 30-day grace period, Johnson said, and he added it will be good to have reports from the state KERA program that would give them more information than what they are seeing now.
Henry said pushing out as much information to customers about the programs is important.
Johnson said they are continuing to work with the public, updating information while trying to collect more information.
Board member Mary Gonzales asked if there was any utility assistance money left from charitable funds.
Hinson said they continue to have regular utility assistance and have money from the hardship program. She is not aware of any additional dollars, but they are still getting some utility assistance from agencies making commitments. LIEAP (Low-Income Energy Assistance Program) checks are still being received, she added.
Lori Austin, BPU chief financial officer, said applications for the LIEAP program are open until May 28. Information about applying for the LIEAP program assistance is at http://www.dcf.ks.gov/services/ees/Pages/EnergyAssistance.aspx.
Johnson said there have been initiatives in Washington, D.C., for future funding on utility assistance, but it has to be passed and signed into law for that to happen.
The KERA program is funded through the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which provided the state of Kansas nearly $200 million in rental assistance funding. The Kansas Housing Resources Corp. (KHRC) serves as the administrator of the majority of these funds through the KERA program.
Those eligible to apply include tenants who rent their home, tenants whose 2020 household income did not exceed 80 percent of the area’s median income, households where at least one member is experiencing documented financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or at least one member of the household is uncertain of where they will stay or may become homeless without housing assistance.
To apply for the program, both the tenant and their landlord must apply online via a joint application process. The landlord completes online certification and the tenant submits the online application. The landlord and tenant are then notified when the application is processed. To learn more about the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance Program, the qualification and application process, visit the KHRC website at https://kera.kshousingcorp.org/kera.
The BPU is asking customers who receive a notice about their applications from KERA to call customer service at 913-573-9190 and also send their notice from the state to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone with any BPU billing or customer service questions can call 913-573-9190 and a utility representative is available to assist.
A BPU spokesman sent out information on Thursday about a no-charge weatherization assistance program that will help low-income customers reduce their utility costs this summer.
The program through the U.S. Department of Energy and the Kansas Weatherization Assistance Program helps cover the cost of weatherization improvements. The program is funded by DOE and LIEAP, and regulated by the Kansas Housing Resources Corp. Energy auditors will find inefficient areas of the home and then recommend improvements, that are provided free of charge in the program. For more information about the program, visit www.ECKAN.org/weatherization/ or call 785-242-6413.