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An estimated 205 million Americans are at risk of utility disconnection. Here's how you can get help

Here are some resources for those who may be at risk for utility disconnection.

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The economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing many Americans to fall behind on their utility bills.

At least 79.5 million American adults live in households that are having difficulty paying their usual household expenses during the pandemic, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey. That is 33% of 249 million Americans over the age of 18.

Now many are faced with the difficult decision of what basic need to fulfill.

Although at least 33 states enacted COVID-19 utility disconnection moratoriums, many are expired or set to expire in the coming weeks.

"We'll probably be up to 40 states that will have no protection by the end of the month," said Charlie Harak, a senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center specializing in energy and consumer utility issues.

The National Energy Assistance Directors Association estimates this could leave 205.4 million Americans at risk of losing service. Harak said more alarming is the upward trend of those not considered "low-income" customers falling behind.

"The poor are not falling massively behind due to COVID; it is the non-low-income folks," he said. "You can't live in your own house without utilities."

Below are resources for those who may be at risk for utility disconnection gathered by CNN's Impact Your World.

Energy

For energy assistance, Harak says the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is an excellent place to start. The program is a federally funded initiative that helps low-income households pay their heating and cooling bills. It operates in every state and on most tribal reservations and U.S. territories. Early in the pandemic, Congress infused the program with $900 million as part of the CARES Act.

The LIHEAP Clearinghouse has more information and how to determine eligibility. If you don't qualify for LIHEAP, but you need help paying your energy bills, your local social services agency may have other resources available.

Harak suggests contacting your gas, oil, or electric company about budget billing programs or alternative payment options, especially for vulnerable customers like those with disabilities or the elderly.

"Many states have certain protections against termination for vulnerable populations," said Harak.

You may be eligible for a payment plan for your utility bills or an AMP (Arrearage Management Program) that will give you both a payment plan and bill credits for timely payments.

Water

Long before the pandemic, water affordability was an ongoing issue in America.

"Twenty million Americans are struggling just to access clean, safe, affordable water," said Monica Lewis-Patrick, CEO of We the People of Detroit, which advocates for water affordability and other causes.

"There are many Americans that don't have to imagine a day without water — they're already experiencing it."

With the lack of shut-off moratoriums in most states that cover water, millions more are at immediate risk of losing what Lewis-Patrick calls a "basic human right."

There are no federal water bill assistance programs, but if you are having difficulty paying your water bill during this time, you first should contact your local water department. While direct financial aid is not common, they may offer you a plan that will help you pay the water bill's balance over time in some form of installment program.

You may also be eligible to receive additional assistance on your water bill from one of the following programs:

  • Low-Income Payment Program (LIPP) is a good option for low-income families. Along with cash grants, the program offers installment plans that may include a 20% discount on total monthly bills.
  • The H2O Help to Others Program offers emergency aid, grants, and other discounts to help those at risk of water shut-off. This program also educates customers on good water spending habits.
  • Customer Assistance Programs (CAPS) use bill discounts, special rate structures, and more to help financially strained customers maintain water service.

Charity utility assistance programs

Non-profit or local faith-based organizations might have funds available to help you stay connected through their emergency assistance programs. Charities like the Salvation Army and the United Way provide emergency help with utilities.

Additionally, the United Way operates the 2-1-1 helpline and mobile app, which provides referrals to programs assisting with food, housing, financial aid, utility problems and more, 24 hours a day.