Notices were sent in this month’s water bill warning residents that the Governor’s Mandate suspending water shut-offs ends Sept. 30.
Residents with a utility account balance more than 60 days past due will be subject to shut-off on Oct. 1.
Currently, the City of Oakdale has $185,205 in delinquent payments, which is more than double what the City usually carries in a normal period.
Oakdale City Manager, Bryan Whitemyer confirmed, “In a normal period the delinquency amount would be around $60,000.”
But it isn’t only Oakdale feeling the pinch. According to the State Water Resources Control Board, even as early as the first of the year, the state’s unpaid water bills had already hit $1 billion.
The financial stressors of COVID-19 have continued to put a financial drain on personal budgets, making it difficult for many to pay the most basic of commitments.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order issued in March 2020 was an attempt to help those struggling to pay their water bill, as water was determined to be critical in the fight against infection.
Even as the economy continues to limp along, many still suffering from lost wages, rising COVID-19 infections, and ballooning personal debt, the decision to end the mandate is likely to adversely affect those without resources to pay a large utility bill.
“The City is aware of the difficult times that have occurred to so many,” Whitemyer said. “We welcome the opportunity to work with those who are struggling to make those payments.”
According to Whitemyer, the City has payment plans available for those struggling to pay their water bill but in addition, local programs, such as Family Support Network and Center for Human Services, has programs that may help as well.
Tamberly Stone, program manager for the Center for Human Services said, “Yes, we have been providing utility assistance for many years and have two current grant funding streams that will allow us to continue to help support families with past due bills.”
On the state level, lawmakers plan to use one-time federal relief money to forgive $2 billion of utility debt, while using existing programs to help people in other ways.
While the state offers COVID-19 Rent Relief, of the $158 million distributed as of July 16, less than $40,000 had gone to pay for utilities. Currently, utility debt comprises six percent of all assistance requests to the state.
The State Water Board is creating a new program aimed at providing relief to community water and wastewater systems for unpaid bills directly related to the pandemic. The criteria for application will cover water debt from residential and commercial customers accrued between March 4, 2020 and June 15, 2021.
The priority will be given to residential drinking water and commercial arrearages and funding to community water systems will be disbursed through Jan. 31, 2022.
But what about the federal funds allocated to states to help with COVID-19 relief?
Well, in Oakdale’s case, the City Council has not yet formally adopted an expenditure plan for the city’s allocation of American Rescue Plan funds. Council members will be holding a workshop later this month to develop that expenditure plan.
Whitemyer said, “I anticipate that the expenditure plan will be finished by mid-September.”
For more information on the City’s water payment plan, call the Finance Department at 209-845-3571.
For more information on Family Support Network programs, call 209-847-5121.
For more information on Center for Human Services programs, call 209-847-0420.
For more information on Stanislaus County resources, call 209-558-7535 or 211.