Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

Cleveland City Council is proposing to help thousands of residential water and electric customers with unpaid bills. 

Council is taking up legislation to spend $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to assist an estimated 1,200 Cleveland Public Power and 1,400 Cleveland Water customer households. 

The city would grant the aid to customers already on payment plans whose debt dates back no later than March 2020, the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. The city would either match what a customer has paid to date or zero out their remaining balance, Utilities Committee Chair Brian Kazy said at a Monday afternoon news conference.

“We hear a lot of times that we’re one of the poorest big cities in the country,” Kazy said. “This is what ARPA was intended to do, was to help people get back on their feet.” 

Cleveland Public Power, the city-owned electric utility, serves about 74,000 residential, governmental and business customers. Cleveland Water serves 432,000 customer accounts in the metropolitan area. Only residents, not delinquent businesses, would not be eligible for the amnesty, Kazy said. 

Council President Blaine Griffin and several other members announced the amnesty proposal in council’s committee room at City Hall. The legislation is council’s second debt-forgiveness proposal. The body recently approved using ARPA money to buy and forgive medical debt

As a summer schedule of less-frequent meetings looms, the 17-member legislative body and Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration have been debating how to spend the remainder of Cleveland’s nearly $512 million ARPA allocation. 

Bibb’s proposal to spend $15 million on the city-owned West Side Market has dominated much of that recent debate. Several council members have resisted slating so much of the city’s limited stimulus allocation for the market, citing wide needs in their own neighborhoods.

On Monday, council members framed their utilities assistance proposal as an effort to meet the direct needs of people hurt economically by the pandemic. 

“This is council taking care of the people of the city of Cleveland and using these Covid-19 American Rescue Plan Act dollars for their intended purpose,” Griffin said of the proposal, “which is to help people who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19.”

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Nick Castele, Government Reporter

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio, where he has 10 years' experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Last year he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.