PASSAIC VALLEY, New Jersey (WABC) -- A water company in New Jersey began shutting off spigots at hundreds of homes in the Passaic Valley this month, ending a two-year pandemic reprieve for customers with unpaid service bills.
7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda talked to homeowners about ways they can stave off the shutoff.
The threat of having her water cut off made Paterson resident Ana Garcia so scared that she rushed to the utility to pay her late bill in person. Coming up with more than $340 wasn't easy.
"The situation is very difficult," Garcia said.
Helping customers like her is the goal for city officials who say 7,500 customers of the Passaic Valley Water Commission in Paterson, Passaic and Clifton, are facing shutoff for being more than 67 days late on their water bills.
"We can assist those in need," Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said.
Elected leaders want to get the word out that there are resources not being taking advantage of. Resources like the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program.
The $24 million federal grant offers a minimum of $2,000 and maximum of $4,000 for eligible customers. Yet only 100 Passaic Valley customers applied.
"At some point we have to consider shutoff and we kind of reached that point this January," Passaic Valley Water Commission Executive Director Jim Mueller said.
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The executive director of the water commission says they'll be starting with accounts which owe the largest amounts and work their way down, targeting about 30 shutoffs per day.
The utility wants customers who are struggling to reach out before getting cut off but added they have a responsibility to collect since COVID relief ended.
"Just give us a call, we will work with them on no-interest payment plans, we are trying to ease the pain on them and also getting the delinquencies under control," Mueller said.
In December last year, there was 9,000 delinquent residential and commercial accounts and $14 million was owed.
Many Paterson residents say they didn't know about any assistance programs.
Iran Lisser runs the newly created office of financial empowerment.
"It's a place where they can come in and talk to someone that specializes in working on your budget and working on looking at your credit and looking at your debt," Lisser said.
Residents like Garcia are counting on getting help. 7 On Your Side put her in touch with the water commission so she can get rid of late fees and stay current on her monthly bills.
Residents who are enrolled in the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program can avoid the shutoff at least in the winter months until March 15.
Those eligible to have financial hardship, like job loss or illness, can apply by calling in the water commission or by going to the website.
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