Since November, the City of Winchester has offered an assistance program in partnership with the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley for residents who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and cannot pay their utility bills. Now, thanks to additional CARES Act funding and a new payment plan program, local residents now have more options to help them get caught up on their past-due water and sewer bills.
The City has just been awarded $263,620.44 in additional CARES Act funds from the state to help pay for past due water and sewer bills for residents impacted by COVID-19. Letters and applications will be mailed to all past-due customers this week. Those eligible for this second grant opportunity must return the application or call the City’s Utility Billing Manager to apply (see attached letter or visit https://www.winchesterva.gov/utilities/payment-plan).
In addition to the CARES Act grant program for past-due utility bills, there are also some new requirements from the state regarding a moratorium on water and sewer shutoffs and options for payment plans.
There is currently a statewide moratorium that prohibits disconnecting utility service to residential customers due to non-payment of their bill. This restriction will remain in place until the Governor determines that the economic and public health conditions have improved such that the prohibition does not need to be in place, or until at least 60 days after the current state of emergency ends. However, please note that City Council may be allowed to approve an exemption to this requirement in the future if they desire.
In addition, all customers that have a 30-day past due balance on their utility account are eligible for a COVID-19 Repayment Plan. The plan terms options can range from six-months to 24-months based on the customer’s preference. Customers who qualify for the COVID-19 Repayment Plan will not be charged any new deposits, down payments, late fees, interest charges, or penalties, and none shall accrue, during the moratorium on disconnections.
To be eligible for the COVID-19 Repayment Plan, a customer must attest that he or she has experienced financial hardship resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This does not mean that the bills are not due or that the amounts owed will be waived or forgiven. Rather, qualifying customers will simply have more time to pay the past due amounts.
Information and applications for all current assistance programs and payment plans can be found online at https://www.winchesterva.gov/utilities/payment-plan.