A new program is helping Mesa residents catch up on rent owed – and avoid water and electricity turnoffs.
Last month, after providing $7 million in rent assistance through the Mesa CARES program, the city received an additional $15.7 million in federal funding for “Mesa residents who are financially impacted by COVID.”
Two weeks into the 2021 Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program (or ERAP), 87 households received $452,000 in assistance, with $426,000 for rent owed and $25,000 for utility bills.
The city was processing nearly 700 more applications for ERAP, which is targeted for those who “demonstrate they have been impacted by COVID,” such as loss of a job and/or income reduction.
The monthly income maximum for a single person is $3,634. Monthly income guidelines increase by about $500 per family member up to $6,850 for a family of eight.
Mary Brandon, Community Services deputy director, said residents can apply at mesaaz.gov/mesacares.
She said the city is working with the Mesa Community Action Network (MesaCAN) for those who need help applying. The agency will provide assistance with computers and those who need Spanish translation, she said.
MesaCAN is at 635 E. Broadway Road. Hours for assistance are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m Monday through Friday.
The agency, Brandon stressed, will walk anyone who needs assistance through the application process.
For more information, call 480-644-5440 or email ERAPinfo@mesaaz.gov.
According to Business Services Director Ed Quedens, the city has turned off about 1% of its 189,000 utility customers.
“Since Oct. 1, we have turned off service for 1,948 customer accounts due to delinquency,” he said.
He noted “the number of turn-offs is the accumulation of unpaid delinquencies from mid-March of 2020 which is when we suspended disconnects due to the pandemic.
“Only 151 of the delinquent accounts that we turned off since Oct. 1 remain turned off,” Quedens noted.
The number of turn offs could have been far higher: “We did a lot of outreach to our customers to make them aware of the availability of Mesa CARES assistance funds ... Many of the customers we turned off did not seek assistance likely because they didn’t qualify by income or COVID impact through any of the assistance programs,” Quedens said.
Now that funding is available again, “Customer messaging includes messaging that if you’re having problems paying your bill we have assistance available. The program is advertised on the city’s home page,” Quedens said. “Also when someone calls in to the phone center or the credit office we try to connect them to one of the programs if they need help.
“We would always like to help get a customer assistance rather than to have to disconnect their services,” he said.
The Mesa CARES Utility Assistance Program, which ran from June 15 through Dec. 23, made 8,816 awards totaling $4.5 million, according to Quedens.
Mesa suspended utility turnoffs from March through October.
Recently, Quedens said, “We haven’t yet seen a significant uptick in delinquencies. A lot of customers received assistance in December and if their situation hasn’t improved, they may not have accumulated much of a balance yet.
“We know times are still tough. Hopefully, they’ll be able to take advantage of the new program before they get too far behind,” he added.
“My staff will refer any customers who contact us concerned about their bill to the application process and will do our best not to disconnect them while they apply and await a response. We work really hard to help our customers when faced with these difficult situations.”
Mesa also has a Low-Income Senior Water Discount program, for those 60 and older below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
The program provides a 30 percent discount on the water service rate and reduces the fixed monthly rate from $28.10 per month to $19.67 per month.