Since pandemic, Salem sees big uptick in asks for help with utility bills

A filter pond at the city of Salem’s water treatment facility (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

More Salem homeowners are seeking help from city programs to aid those who have trouble paying utility bills.

The city in 2021 provided help to 1,701 customers totalling about $230,000 under its emergency utility assistance program, according to data provided to Salem Reporter. That’s up from 491 households who got help in 2020, at a cost of about $71,000, and just 296 households in 2019 who received about $27,000 total.

The program pays up to $500 per customer or account per calendar year for people who need help covering utility bills and meet income and other requirements. 

City councilors raised the amount a household could get from $150 in April 2020 in response to the growing need during the pandemic, said Trevor Smith, the city’s public works department spokesman.

Demand has stayed strong into 2022, with 808 customers getting $116,000 in total help with bills so far this year, according to the city’s data.

Smith said the city has done more outreach about the programs in recent years and removed some barriers to people qualifying which may have helped increase the numbers.

Salem is also participating in a new federal program to help single-family households pay water, sewer and stormwater bills, administered by the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency.

Community Action clients who are also Salem utility customers can get one-time help of up to $1,000 to pay current or overdue utility bills, or up to $2,000 if services have been disconnected.

That program began in late March and, through the end of May, had served 207 customers with about $47,000 in help.

More information about assistance programs and how to apply is available on the city website.

-Rachel Alexander