Selma, N.C. — Countless North Carolinians have taken a financial hit during the coronavirus pandemic, and nearly 40,000 have asked the state for help covering their rent and utility bills.
The Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions, or HOPE, program provides up to six months of rent and utility relief to people financially hurt by the pandemic. The application period closed Wednesday, but many applicants are still waiting for help.
A Selma woman who lost her job in the restaurant industry in May because of the pandemic said Wednesday that her lights have been turned off twice in two weeks.
“I got two small children in here with medical conditions. We can’t afford to have our lights and water turned off,” said the woman, who didn’t want to be identified.
After paying rent, she’s left with $200 a month from her unemployment checks, which has kept her electric bill teetering on a negative balance.
“Right now, I have $7.91 on my lights [account], which is only probably going to take me until tomorrow or Friday,” she said. “What am I do to do? I called Salvation Army, I called different churches, and nobody seems to have funds and stuff for lights. I am really running out of options.”
The woman said she’s been waiting for about a month for money through the HOPE program. Program managers didn’t provide information on the average wait time for people seeking assistance, but they did say payments have started to be issued directly to landlords and utility providers.
Community Action Inc., which handles HOPE applications in Johnston County, hasn’t formally approved her application for assistance. But a letter from the program states that she met the eligibility criteria, adding that “you may also present this letter to your utility provider to notify them that you are pursuing assistance.”
Selma’s Electric Department turned her lights off anyway, she said.
“You didn’t even consider to say, ‘OK, we will work with her a little while longer, or if the payment gets too far into the negative, we will cut it off then,'” she said. “But to be negative $10 to $12 and you are literally cutting my lights off? It’s not right.”
Selma Interim Town Manager Rhonda Sommer confirmed Community Action is working to find the woman help, but in a statement, she said, “When we receive a ‘pledge to pay’ on an account, we will gladly process it.”
“I am literally living day by day right now with lights and water,” the woman said, noting that she’s been borrowing money from relatives to help keep the lights on. “I know I can not be the only one in this same situation.”
She said she just hopes the HOPE assistance comes before her family is in the dark yet again.
“It’s been a real struggle for me to keep my bills and stuff paid, but now I am to the point where all my savings is gone,” she said.