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Athens City Council last week approved an ordinance to spend thousands of dollars to help residents who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic meet their utility payments.

City officials, with the approval of Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, allocated $75,000 to Hocking Athens Perry Community Action (HAPCAP), a nonprofit that works to combat poverty in the region, to manage the city’s COVID-19 utilities emergency relief grant program. The program will run until funds are depleted or until Nov. 30.

Mayor Patterson noted during the Sept. 8 virtual meeting that 470 households in the Athens area are in need of some level of relief.

The COVID-19 City Utility Assistance Emergency Relief grant program can grant up to $1,000 to households in need of relief in regard to completing city utility bills: water, trash and recycling bills are included in this.

Applying to the program, which can be done through a phone call to the organization, doesn’t guarantee assistance, and payments are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to the grant agreement between the city and HAPCAP.

Funds for this grant program are rooted in CARES Act funding.

The ordinance reads that the program was “created to assist the City of Athens residents who have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The ordinance (101-20), introduced by Councilmember Sam Crowl, passed unanimously after its first reading, as rules were suspended during this meeting. All council members commended the program.

“This is a great program, a great use of the CARES Act funding,” Councilmember Arian Smedley, who sits on the Finance and Personnel Committee, said during the committee’s meeting that fell before the council's regular session. “And it’s a smart collaboration with another community agency that specializes in the management of special funding.”

In August, city council passed a similar ordinance that assisted Athenians who were impacted by the pandemic in ways that inhibited their abilities to make payments on rent or mortgage. This program is also administered by HAPCAP. The program grants up to $1,000 in rent or mortgage payments to city residents who have a documented past due housing payment and are able to provide documentation of a COVID-19-related hardship, such as a job loss or hours reduction.

In May, HAPCAP unveiled its own rent and mortgage assistance program to provide residents of Hocking, Athens and Perry Counties up to three months of emergency housing payments. Eligibility requirements for the program vary based on the county, household size and income of those who apply.

The organization also announced programs to assist residents of all three counties in paying their water and electricity bills, The Athens NEWS previously reported. The water bill assistance program provides residents a one-time payment of up to $750 that is directly pledged to the water company. Households must be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line and their water line must be in the process of disconnect or already shut-off to be eligible. The program will continue until funds run out.

The electricity assistance initiative helps residents pay for electric bills or central air conditioning repairs. Those interested in applying to the program must schedule an appointment with HAPCAP to determine their eligibility.

Athens City Council President Chris Knisely said during the Sept. 8 council meeting that the city’s grant agreement with HAPCAP will “compliment” the nonprofit’s existing emergency relief programs.

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