Naperville to consider offering grants to utility customers behind on payments
Naperville residents and business owners struggling to pay their utility bills during the COVID-19 crisis could soon be offered some financial relief.
The city council on Tuesday is set to consider establishing a temporary assistance program that would provide one-time grants to residential and commercial utility customers, particularly those who are behind on their payments.
Naperville saw a sharp rise in the number of overdue water and electric bills last year, which Finance Director Rachel Mayer says can be largely attributed to the economic hardships of the pandemic.
In December, 2,940 residential and 267 commercial accounts had outstanding balances totaling more than $2.6 million, records show. A year earlier, 1,587 residential and 156 commercial accounts owed a total of $366,083.
Hoping to ease the burden on delinquent utility customers, the council allocated $500,000 in the 2021 budget toward helping to pay down account balances and avoid future service disconnections.
The proposed assistance program developed by staff members would dedicate about $300,000 to residential customers, who could receive a maximum $300 each, Mayer said in a memo to the council. The remaining funds would go toward offering grants of up to $1,500 to businesses.
In addition to doling out a lump sum, the program would require utility account holders to manage their remaining overdue balances through an extended payment plan. About 260 customers who owe a total of $491,880 are currently paying off their bills in installments, Mayer said.
Faced with workload constraints in the finance department, Mayer said, the city plans to partner with Loaves & Fishes Community Services to administer the residential component of the grant program. The Naperville-based nonprofit has experience providing emergency assistance to community members, with a screening process in place to ensure grant recipients can demonstrate a clear need, she said.
Loaves & Fishes would charge the city an administrative fee of 10% of the grant funds administered, per a proposed agreement between the two parties.
The city would manage the commercial component internally, Mayer said, while also monitoring the demand for assistance and reallocating the funds if necessary.
Naperville has implemented several initiatives in the last year to help offset the financial burden of the pandemic, including small business grants, various fee waivers, and the suspension of service disconnections for those who fail to pay their water and electric bills through 2020.
Staff members are recommending the city extend the suspension until April 1 to give utility customers enough time to apply for the new grant program, documents show.