MONTPELIER – Residential customers and small businesses in Vermont are eligible for utility relief grants, but less than half the $8 million available through the state program has been awarded.
The Vermont COVID-19 Arrearage Assistance Program (VCAAP) is designed to help utility customers pay past-due bills so they can keep the lights on, the water flowing and the heat running as winter approaches. Following last week’s announcement that a temporary hold on utility disconnections had been lifted, state officials are urging Vermonters to apply before it’s too late.
Funded by the federal CARES Act, the program will expire Nov. 30. Previous grant recipients will be eligible to receive additional funding,
“We only have six weeks left to essentially spend the full $8 million,” said Riley Allen, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service. “We’re trying to make adjustments to the program to market further, allow the money to flow more freely.”
According to Allen, the amount of unpaid bills held by Vermont utility customers is much larger than what’s been awarded to applicants so far. Part of the reason, he said, was a delay in getting the VAACP up and running.
“Getting it started took longer than we had hoped for,” Allen said. “I think in the process we were slow with our partners to essentially move on the marketing end, so all that has contributed to this program really getting in full gear about a month ago.”
Residential customers facing utility shutoffs are encouraged to apply, but small businesses — which haven’t come close to tapping the amount of relief funds available — are eligible, too.
“[Businesses} have come in at just a fraction of the pace that the residential side has moved, so we definitely want to encourage them to get in the program,” Allen said. “We think our utilities are doing a good job of going after them, but for some reason I have yet to understand, it hasn’t quite materialized, so we’re hoping that will change.”