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St. Helens City Council approves $5,000 for emergency assistance funding pool

Community Action Team will now be able to offer emergency assistance for St. Helens water customers, thanks to a partnership with the city.

The St. Helens City Council voted 4-to-0 Wednesday night, March 21, to provide CAT with $5,000 to administer a low-income water-sewer-storm assistance program.

City Councilor Keith Locke abstained from the vote. Locke is on the CAT board of directors.SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Community Action Team, a nonprofit resource agency in St. Helens that serves Columbia, Clatsop and Tillamook counties, will now be able to offer a limited number of emergency assistance funds for city water bills, thanks to a partnership with the city of St. Helens. The City Council voted to approve the partnership Wednesday, March 21.

The assistance program is similar to others CAT offers to low-income individuals on an emergency basis. CAT utility assistance manager Katie May said that, while the agency offers several similar programs for help with other utilities, the agency doesn't have as many resources available for water bills.

Through the city partnership, the agency will now be able to offer more help. If someone has experienced an unanticipated situation in their lives that prevents them from paying their water bill, and can document it within the last 60 days, that person can apply to CAT for up to $100 of one-time assistance from the program, May explained. Applicants will also need to meet income eligibility requirements to qualify.

On an average week, four or five people will ask CAT for assistance with water bills, May noted, and the nonprofit receives requests for assistance year-round.

Locke said the CAT program is intended to help people in an emergency situation. Several years ago, the city phased out a senior discount program it offered on city water and sewer, and phasing in this type of program would target those in need, Locke explained.

St. Helens recently switched to a monthly billing program, which means residents will receive statements more frequently. Locke said the change could help some residents plan ahead. Many would be able to save funds to pay for large bills that encompassed two-months' use at a time, he said, adding that smaller, more frequent bills could help residents budget more efficiently.

May said she is curious to see how the billing change might affect customers in the long run.

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