Water bill payments may help those in Stanislaus, Merced hurt by drought

06/10/2014 1:47 PM

06/11/2014 10:44 PM

Low-income residents of Stanislaus and Merced counties who are struggling to pay their water utility bills because of the drought may get help from the government.

The new Drought Water Assistance Program will provide $60,000 to each county to spend on current, past-due or disconnected water utility bills for families financially hurt by the drought.

Only low-income residents who “self-certify” that the drought has reduced their income are eligible.

The California Department of Community Services and Development identified water utility bill assistance as a drought emergency need. It chose Stanislaus, Merced and eight other counties to get the money because they have high unemployment rates and an above-average share of agricultural workers.

Community members who are having trouble with their water wells because of the drought are not eligible for this assistance. Only those who get water from utility districts are eligible.

“They have to have a water bill, and the payment would go directly to the utility district,” explained Ernie Flores, executive director of the Central Valley Opportunities Center. His government-funded agency is administering the new program in Stanislaus. “We also can help get their water turned back on if it had been disconnected.”

Flores said his organization already administers a variety of taxpayer-funded programs to help farmworkers and other low-income Stanislaus residents. He said no one currently knows how many people are having trouble paying their water bills because of the drought, but “we’re going to find out.”

To get more information about the water bill assistance program and how to apply for help, Stanislaus residents should call the Central Valley Opportunities Center at (209) 577-3210.

Merced County low-income residents interested in the program should call the Merced County Community Action Agency, (209) 723-1225.

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