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Cleveland City Council to offer $2 million in utility assistance

Council's Utilities Committee Chair Brian Kazy announces the city's $2 million utilities amnesty program.
Abbey Marshall
Ideastream Public Media
Council's Utilities Committee Chair Brian Kazy announces the city's $2 million utilities amnesty program.

More than 2,600 Cleveland households are expected to receive up to $2 million in utility assistance for past due balances.

The utility amnesty program would match contributions or zero out debt owed by customers on payment plans for the city-owned power and water companies dating back to March 2020.

“We want to help people get back on their feet, not bog them down with bills that are owed,” Brian Kazy, who chairs council’s utilities committee, said at a Monday afternoon press conference.

There is no income requirement. The program will end once the funds are exhausted. Kazy estimates 1,400 Cleveland Public Power accounts and 1,200 Cleveland Division of Water accounts will benefit.

The amnesty program is funded with $2 million of the city’s half billion dollar pot of American Rescue Plan Act funds, which is intended to invest in communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of 2021, nearly one in five Cleveland water customers were behind on bills.

“We’re one of the poorest big cities in the country, and this is what ARPA was intended to do: it was intended to help people get back on their feet,” Kazy said.

Last month, City Council approved $1.9 million in ARPA funds to clear nearly $190 million in medical debt.

“Part of what we wanted to do is use these emergency dollars to mitigate a crisis,” Council President Blaine Griffin said. “Oftentimes these folks fall deeper and deeper into debt and deeper and deeper into assistance. “

The amnesty program, introduced at Monday’s council meeting, is expected to be passed next week. Once approved, City Council will send letters to eligible customers the next day to cancel or reduce their balances.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.