Md. lawmaker looks to connect struggling residents with utility relief program

Electrical power pole with a blue sky background(Getty Images/iStockphoto/Robert Moore)

Those who get a bill directly from their utility company are probably aware that there are payment plans available and an assistance program for those who qualify. But some who need the help may not be aware that it’s out there.

Maryland State Del. Lorig Charkoudian, a Democrat who represents parts of Montgomery County, was concerned that there are many people who do not have any idea of the programs available to them because they never see a utility bill — it’s included in their housing bill.

“For people who pay their utilities through their rent or a condo fee, or another third party, or mobile home — they’re eligible for heating assistance, but they probably don’t know it,” she said.

That’s why Charkoudian is now working on ways to coordinate getting the information to people whose heating costs are bundled into their housing costs each month.

As many people fall behind on rent or mortgage payments, they could possibly qualify for a break on the utility portion of their expenses, Charkoudian said.

“It is a way to address, to some extent, some of these eviction issues,” Charkoudian said.

It’s difficult to determine how many Marylanders fall into the category she’s trying to assist. She said she approached utility companies to get that information, but they told her that privacy issues prevent them from releasing information about customers.

Instead, Charkoudian is working on ways that utilities could distribute the information, while she also works with community groups and does outreach through her office.

Eligibility for the Maryland Energy Assistance Program, or MEAP, is based on the size of the household and pre-tax income before applying for the help.

There are other eligibility requirements, but Charkoudian wants residents to be aware that they may be able to get assistance as they deal with economic pressures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Charkoudian said that the effort to get the heating bill help information is just one of the ways her work as a state legislator has changed because of COVID-19.

“In a very different way, especially early on in the pandemic, it totally shifted how I take care of my constituents,” Charkoudian said.

Similar programs are offered in Virginia and D.C. The utility companies that operate in those areas offer more info on their websites:

Maryland and DC

Northern Virginia

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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