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Utahns prepare for CARES Act benefit expiration

Posted at 6:13 PM, Jul 31, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — Some of the biggest protections under the CARES Act, for people struggling with the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, are set to expire Friday night.

This includes an end to weekly $600 unemployment stimulus checks, and the ability for utility companies to again shut off service for those who are behind on payments.

Spencer Hall, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, said the company wants to do what it can to help customers feel at ease, especially as most of the state deals with high temperatures.

“It’s a difficult time for a lot of our customers,” Hall said. “Rocky Mountain Power isn’t going to disconnect anyone who works with the company to set up a payment plan… The most important thing is that you call in and set something up. If you put your head in the sand, you might get disconnected, but if you call in and get something up, you’re not going to get disconnected.”

A handful of other utility companies in Utah, like Dominion Energy, tell FOX 13 they are following the same practices.

“So long as they reach out and work with us,” said Don Porter, a spokesman for Dominion Energy.

“We have ways to extend your payments out, we can be flexible with your situation,” Hall said. “It’s one of the most important bills people have, and we really want to make sure people know that they can keep the lights on.”

A moratorium that prevents landlords from evicting people in federally-subsidized housing also expires on July 31.

Nate McDonald, the assistant deputy director for Department of Workforce Services said he believes the majority of Utahns have been able to use their $600 weekly stimulus checks toward rent.

“I think everyone recognizes that it’s not going to benefit the country, our state, the economy, if all of a sudden you have peopled evicted and homeless,” McDonald said. “We saw a 3,000-percent increase of people applying for unemployment… With the additional $600, it was essentially — for many people — it was a full wage replacement.”

According to the Department of Workforce Services, unemployment numbers dropped in June to about 5.1 percent, which is a lot better than most states but still not quite back to where Utah was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We definitely are seeing the numbers drop,” McDonald said. “Unemployment insurance was never meant to be a permanent solution. It is a temporary fill-in-the-gap program. Right now if you’re relying on unemployment insurance, you need to realize that these programs are time limited.”

Utahns will still be eligible for state unemployment benefits, which typically equal approximately 40-50 percent of their wages. McDonald said the average payment is $430 per month with a maximum is $580.

As the federal government continues to work on new programs similar to the CARES Act, Utahns realize there are still problems — but there are also some solutions.

“Here in Utah, we have a compassionate community and we understand that helping neighbors is what we do,” Hall said. “If you donate to the energy assistance programs that we work with, Rocky Mountain Power will match that two to one.”

McDonald said without the $600 weekly stimulus checks, some Utahns may now be eligible for other programs such as food stamps.

There are also other programs to help people out with rent or utilities. For more information, visit jobs.utah.gov and navigate to the COVID-19 tab.