Residents struggling to pay water and sewer bills can now receive help from a federally funded program operated through the Wayne County Department of Social Services.

Wayne County has been awarded $273,281 in Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program funding that will help eligible residents who have had their water and sewer service disconnected or are in danger of disconnection, said Joel Gillie, Wayne County public information officer.

“I’m kind of excited to see how this plays out and to see how many individuals we can assist through this program,” said Nina Williams, DSS income maintenance administrator.

Applications for assistance are being accepted at DSS and online at https://epass.nc.gov. The program continues through September 2023 or until the funds are spent.

“We are processing applications as they are received,” Williams said. “This is a new program. It is temporary. As far as I know, it’s this year.”

The Wayne County allocation is part of the state’s share of $38 million the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services will distribute to counties across the state.

The program will provide a one-time payment to a utility provider for eligible low-income households.

There is no specific grant amount as payments will be based on the amount needed to restore services or prevent the disconnection of services, Gillie said.

The program is being funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help people negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to the pandemic and its impact on our economy, many households are struggling to maintain their water service,” said Tara Myers, state DHHS deputy secretary for Employment, Inclusion and Economic Stability. “The LIHWAP program will help families in North Carolina keep their water running, a basic human need that’s critical for good sanitation and better health.”

People who receive Food and Nutrition Services, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Work First services or people who received Low-Income Energy Assistance Program services between Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30 are automatically eligible if their water services have been cut off or are in danger of being cut off.

The first priority group eligible for funding are residents who have had their service disconnected, Williams said. The second priority group are residents who are in danger of having service disconnected.

On Jan. 3, residents who are not in danger of having service disconnected but need help with maintaining service can apply.

Eligibility criteria include having an income equal to or less than 150% of the federal poverty level, having water and sewer service that is disconnected, in jeopardy of disconnection or have a current outstanding bill and be responsible for the water bill.

Wayne County has already entered into vendor agreements to provide the funding to residents receiving services and living in the Fork Township, Pikeville, Mount Olive and Goldsboro, Gillie said.

DSS started accepting applications Wednesday after recently learning how much the county will receive in program funding.

In addition to applying online, applications can be picked up and dropped off at DSS, at 100 S. James St., during normal business hours or left in the DSS dropbox. DSS can also be reached at 919-731-1577 or 580-4034.

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