It is still difficult for thousands of people to pay their bills because of the pandemic.

That is why Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear issued a $38 million utility assistance plan Monday.

There are more than a thousand people behind on their bills in the Purchase Area, including more than 200 Paducah Power customers.

Paducah Water General Manager Bill Robertson said more than 600 people are 60 days behind payments on their bills.

He said before the pandemic, the utility would see half of that number.

Jackson Purchase Energy Cooperative said it has more than 600 people behind with a combined past due balance of $351,000.

Purchase Area Development District Executive Director Jeremy Buchanan is working on the first step of the plan to get help for those in need, meeting with city and county governments.

He and other regional executive directors are helping local agencies compile the documents needed to secure funds.

“The only eligible applicants for community development block grant would be city and county government,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan spoke with the Department for Local Governments on Tuesday to receive clarity on the process of the plan.

“Their primary focus is on water and sewer. There’s other programs out there to help people with their bills, with some of the electrical needs,” he said.

“However, the primary issue is making sure that people aren’t being paid two times from federal programming for the same bills.”

The plan is slated to end next year, giving local governments time to get their information together.

“The application process that they outlined showed that they would take applications in this program through June 30, 2022,” Buchanan said.

“So there’s going to be a lot of coordination on the front end to make sure each city and county is eligible for an individual project up to $200,000.”

Local government agencies are still urged to fill out the Kentucky Community Development Block Grant and send it to the Department for Local Government as quickly as possible.

Those local agencies will work with their utility departments and community action agencies.

West Kentucky Allied Services is the communication action agency for the Purchase Area.

“The funding would flow through the local government back through the community action agency, and then go to the utility on behalf of the people who owe the money,” Buchanan said.

“But there’s lots of vetting that has to take place as far as rules and regulations ... we have to survey the folks to make sure they’re low to moderate income.”

Money will not be sent directly to households. It will instead go to the utility departments to use toward bills, likely showing itself as a bill credit on customers’ accounts.

McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer said he is working with the county’s grant writer to secure that money, while Paducah Mayor George Bray said his office is aggressively pursuing funding for his community.

Individual households will be eligible for up to $250 per month for six months in a row if they meet the following conditions:

• They live in a city or county approved for funding.

• They have been financially impacted by COVID-19.

• They are struggling to pay water, sewer, electric, gas or other heating and cooling bills.

• They have received notice for disconnect between Jan. 21, 2020, and the present day and/or up to two months following.

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