Demand high for utility bill relief in Fort Pierce

Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 5:25 PM EDT
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Relief may be on the way for hundreds of Fort Pierce residents who are struggling with high utility bills.

Early Monday morning, the city began accepting applications for assistance, and within an hour, the city said it had to stop.

At Inlet Bait and Tackle in Fort Pierce, owner Jay Sohan hears from his customers that he’s not alone when it comes to high utility bills.

"A lot of my customers come in and talking, like, their bill from $300 has, like, doubled," Sohan said.

And when fewer shrimp are being bought here, that cuts in to his profits.

"It takes a lot. You’ve got to sell a lot of stuff to pay that bill," Sohan said.

High utility bills have been an issue for some time in Fort Pierce. Monday, the city had a plan to help.

"We were trying to respond to the need that was very apparent to us," said city commissioner Curtis Johnson.

$250 payments were being made available to income eligible residents. At 8 a.m. the city started accepting applications, but by 9 a.m., they had to stop.

"That was a little alarming to me. We just opened the portal and within an hour we had 500 applicants," Johnson said.

Right now, city staff is reviewing those applications.

The city commission had allocated $125,000 in American Rescue Act money for utility relief. There's no word on when, or if, additional funding will be made available.

"That’s a good question. I don’t have a really good answer right now. We continue to listen to the community," Johnson said.

And it’s not just the city trying to lend a hand. Community groups are helping to fill the void.

"Right now, if you have an astronomical utility bill, it could be devastating," said Canieria Gardner with the Incubate Neighborhood Center, which acts as a community resource.

This past spring, they provided utility bill help for 700 residents.

Back at Inlet Bait and Tackle, Sohan is hoping a similar utility aid program could be put in place for small businesses like his, so he doesn’t sink.

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