LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As thousands of Louisville residents have struggled to keep up with their utility bills due to COVID-19-related financial hardship, Mayor Greg Fischer (D) proposed a $10 million initiative to help those Louisvillians in need.

What You Need To Know

  • Proposed ordinance would provide the Office of Resilience and Community Services (RCS) $10 million

  • Funds would be available in mid-January

  • Effort partners with Louisville Water, MSD, LG&E

  • If approved by Metro Council, funds would come from freed-up CARES Act funding

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the economy and employment both nationwide and locally — over 22 million Americans lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic, including 36,000 in the Louisville metropolitan area. Fischer noted that nearly 8,000 residents lost their jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry alone.

"As a result, thousands of our neighbors are in a financial crisis, many for the first time. They want to pay their bills but simply cannot keep up, and every month, they become increasingly behind in paying for these vital services,” Fischer said.

The initiative represents a new partnership with local utility companies, including Louisville Water Co., Metro Sanitation Department (MSD), and Louisville Gas and Electric (LG&E). Along with each companies foundations, the city hopes to work together to help get any resident facing hardship back on track with paying their bills.

"Our goal here is to help steady the ship," Fischer said.

The funds would become available to customers in mid-January. Those with outstanding balances could receive a one-time credit for an amount yet to be determined. However, customers will need to prove that they've faced financial hardship during the pandemic.

Back in March, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) issued a moratorium on utility service cut-offs that was lifted in October. Even under the moratorium, customers saw their outstanding balances pile higher and higher. As of Oct. 29, 18,000 residents in Jefferson County are behind on their Louisville Water/MSD bill.

“We know the critical importance of our product during this pandemic,” said Spencer Bruce, President and CEO of Louisville Water. “This potential funding will help thousands of customers, and we are grateful for this community partnership.”

LG&E currently has around 38,000 customers struggling to keep up with payments, with an average bill of over $400. Paul Thompson, LG&E's president and CEO, said Fischer's proposed assistance would help the company and its customers during this challenging year.

"We have been working with our customers to establish longer term payment arrangements to get them to stronger economic times," Thompson said.

The city's $10 million would come from general fund dollars freed up by Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding in other areas. Fischer's proposal must first be approved by Metro Council.

Councilman Markus Winkler, representing Metro District 17, said the federal government's unwillingness to negotiate and pass a comprehensive plan for meaningful aid places the responsibility on local government.

"This failure of leadership pushes the burden on local communities and as such, we must do our part to ensure families can maintain access to basic services such as water and heat as we head into the winter," Winkler said.

The utility relief initiative would complement work that the city and its partners have already done to help residents struggling due to COVID-19. Previously, RCS distributed more than $2.8 million raised through the One Louisville: COVID-19 Response Fund to landlords and utility companies on behalf of 3,324 households.

For the moment, Fischer urged residents to keep close contact with their utility companies about how best to keep up with their bills.

“We know this credit will help some families completely catch up, but some will still be in arrears, so they need to be in communication with the utility companies, all of which have ways to help beyond this credit,” Fischer said. “I appreciate that all three companies are working hard to help their customers through this difficult time.”