When her household's power got disconnected on Saturday, Doslyn Fereichy, a 34-year-old mother of three, knew it was just a matter of time before their water got cut off, too.
But her worst fear, she said, is for her household of eight to get kicked out of their rented house.
"My landlord may kick us out soon if we don't make payments," she told The Guam Daily Post on Monday.
Fereichy is one of the more than 2,580 who have so far applied for the Department of Administration's program that helps pandemic-affected families pay their rent and/or power, water and other utility bills for up to 15 months.
The federal government made available $33.6 million for the Guam program. The application process opened on March 3.
As of Monday, a little more than $1.027 million or 3% of the $33.6 million has so far kept over 300 families from becoming homeless or having their water or power cut off, according to Bernadine Gines, DOA deputy director.
"We are working as fast as we can to review the applications we have received. We ask that people immediately turn in the documents we ask of them so we can complete the review process," Gines said.
One household could have an application for both rental and power aid, while another could only be seeking assistance to pay power and water.
According to Gines, for batches one through five of the DOA's Emergency Rental Assistance Program, they're able to assist with:
- $786,782 in rental assistance for 194 applicants or households
- $179,287 in power bill assistance for 153 households
- $57,856 in water bill assistance for 114 households
- other utilities aid
For batches six through eight, some $400,000 in rental assistance awaits further processing while the amounts for utilities assistance are still being collected, Gines said.
Gines encourages more households to apply for DOA's Emergency Rental Assistance program.
"The program does not end until Sept. 30, 2022, because it was extended. We have over $30 million available for eligible households, so we encourage them to apply," Gines said.
DOA continues to accept new applications, as well as continued applications from those who already got initial help from the ERA program.
"For those who already received assistance and are still having financial hardships, they can continue to apply for assistance but they have to inform us. They have to let us know their case number, and their situation, and we will work with them," Gines said.
Pay what you can
When the Guam Waterworks Authority and Guam Power Authority resumed disconnection policies on June 1, Tammi Borja was one of those who tried to make payments with what little she had to avoid getting her utilities cut off.
Borja said because she was already pre-qualified for DOA's ERA program, the utilities agencies flagged her account so her utilities won't get disconnected until DOA completes the review of her application.
"All they needed was my ERA case number that was given to me on the head letter they sent me when I was pre-qualified," Borja said.
She had to make some utility payments, however, as a show of "good faith," she said.
Borja, one of the thousands of workers displaced by the pandemic, encourages others who are already pre-qualified for the ERA program to do the same so they can continue to have their power on or their water still flowing.
Gines said DOA has been working closely with GWA, GPA and other utility agencies the past months to help as many households as possible.
In Fereichy's case, her household has been behind in rental payments of about $6,000 and they have been hardly making a dent in paying off some $9,000 in utility debts because of financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic since last year, she said.
In her household, there are five adults and three minors including a 2-year-old.
Fereichy said her ERA application was pre-approved, and she turned in all the documents that DOA asked of her.
"I'm being patient and I am praying that we get final approval soon," she said, adding that the DOA employees she talked to on the phone were nice and patient with her.
She said they got their power reconnected on Monday, shortly after sharing her story, because they made some payments using money from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, she said.
But a final DOA approval on their rental and utility relief application, she said, would tremendously help lift off the burden they've been carrying since the pandemic hit.
'Surge' when PUA ends
Gines said she's anticipating that DOA could see a "surge" in applications for rental and utilities assistance when the PUA program ends on Sept. 4.
"They may fall into hardship again. We recognize that, but at least we have our processes already and then we will prepare for that," Gines said.
As of Monday, there were still households that didn't know about the rental and utilities relief program. They said they would try to apply with DOA.
DOA's ERA program still has more than $30 million available to help those who are eligible for help if they meet the qualifications including financial hardship as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here's how to apply and some other information:
- Visit DOA's website at doa.guam.gov to download the application form.
- Pick up a copy of the form at DOA's office on the second floor of the ITC Building in Tamuning.
- Call DOA's ERA program at 671-638-4518/9 for questions about eligibility, to follow up on an application, or to learn more about the program.
- Copies of the applications forms are no longer available at mayors' offices.
- The program ends on Sept. 30, 2022.
- Those who already got assistance for rent and utilities payments can apply again if they are still having hardships. They just have to give their case number to DOA. However, they can only get help for up to 15 months of rental or utility payments.
- For cycle 1 of the ERA program, DOA received 2,346 applications.
- For cycle 2, it has so far received 238 applications.