The coronavirus outbreak has put millions of Americans out of work as businesses close and workers follow self-isolation orders. For many, the weighty uncertainty of returning to work is compounded by the stress of not being able to pay rent or bills.
Many leaders, including Washington Governor Jay Inslee, have put a temporary moratorium on evictions for residents who cannot afford to pay rent in April and May. In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan has echoed this order, and has also vowed to keep Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and Seattle City Light (SCL) services running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, regardless of residents’ ability to pay.
Currently, Seattle residents whose financial stability has been jeopardized due to COVID-19 can call 206-684-3000 to request a deferred payment plan. Additionally, already-established City programs that offer discounts to low-income residents are also available, including the Human Services Department’s Utility Discount Program (UDP).
The UDP offers income-eligible households up to a 60 percent discount on their Seattle City Light bill and up to a 50 percent discount on their Seattle Public Utilities bill. During the COVID-19 crisis, the UDP is making it easier for Seattleites to access these discounts by filling out a short form that attests to their household income, rather than having to provide income documentation.
PROTEC17 member Shamsu Said works as a Program Intake Representative in the Human Services Department, and is a lead in the UDP. He’s been with the City for seven and a half years.
In his day-to-day work, Said processes applications, answers questions about program eligibility, conducts phone screenings, and determines discounts based on energy consumption amounts. He also does a lot of outreach to the East African community.
Since the start of the coronavirus, Said has seen a huge uptick in calls and applications for the program. While working partially from home, and partially from the office on a rotating basis with his colleagues, he is helping Seattle residents get their online applications fast-tracked. Said and his colleagues are also fielding questions from all across the state, from as far away as Spokane and Mount Vernon, as people search for utility discounts online and the Seattle program shows prominently in the results.
“We’re talking to a lot of people and hearing a lot of ‘thank yous’,” said Said. “City residents are really grateful that they’re not going to lose their electricity or water service right now.”
Though it’s always a part of his job to help people, he’s happy to be able to provide additional relief to residents in these stressful times.
“I really enjoy helping people in our city community,” he said. “I especially like helping underserved people learn about all of the resources that are available to them because a lot of people don’t always know where to look.”
To find out more about the UDP, visit: www.seattle.gov/humanservices/services-and-programs/affordability-and-livability/utility-discount-program. Other energy assistance discount programs can be found on the City Light website: www.seattle.gov/light/assistance/assistance.