On August 1, the Community Action Partnership of Kern (CAPK) held a Rural Communities Water and Utilities Bill Assistance event in partnership with Faith in the Valley (FIV). It was held at St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church for free to the organizers to help provide space for the community.
Earlier this year, in March, local news reported that McFarland residents were experiencing increases in their water bills with no formal warning. Kenneth Williams, the City Manager, explained increases in bills would be city-wide due to an error the department made.
“Basically what happened is over the period of six months they weren’t reading the meters and reporting them correctly, and so, after a six-month period they were read correctly by a different employee and once we saw that that’s when the true correct readings came into place and with that came some higher waters bills,” Williams told KGET 17 news.
Andrea Reyes, CAPK’s Outreach and Communications Supervisor, explained that FIV first reached out to CAPK regarding McFarland’s residents who are in need.
“They were able to connect us with St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church to have the location here, to have the event here for free. We brought food boxes for anyone that comes down and tries to get their application processed,” stated Reyes.
The CAPK water bill assistance application can be found at energy.capk.org. For Kern residents interested in applying it is encouraged to do so. This is a one-time relief grant that covers your full bill for each household chosen and for eligibility and a list of all documents needed to apply visit the above website.
Daniel Rodela, an organizer with FIV, said that due to community feedback at a prior public Community Economic Resilience Fund (CERF) meeting that they wanted to follow up with city leaders and other nonprofits to bring relief to the area. He further explained that over eighty people in attendance at the past CERF meeting were struggling with past-due water bills and overall rising costs of utilities.
“This collaboration stemmed from the last CERF community conversation we had in McFarland. At the end of the meeting, several community members who belong to our Local FIV Organizing Committee (LOC) in McFarland brought up the issue of past due water bills with more than 80 folks present, and many shared they were struggling,” Rodela expressed in a written statement.
Among other residents in attendance was Maria Martinez who said she hopes her application is approved. She explained that the city should be doing more to help ease rising costs of living.
“The city is a small city, so it’s limited with its resources. I would hope that the city would have more resources in order for us to be able to enjoy those, and to help us with these types of issues,” Martinez said.
Marisol Salinás is another McFarland resident and is currently employed with Amazon. She explained that she often doesn’t make enough to pay every utility bill on time each month and sometimes not at all.
“We’re getting help to pay our bills- our water bill, which is really really expensive. It’s a hardship for all of us. We work in agriculture,” stated Salinás. “It’s very stressful to have to stress on all the bills you have to pay at once.”
Some solutions Salinás suggested were reducing the overall amount of every person’s monthly utility bills and adding payment arrangements.
“We don’t have payment arrangements we have to pay it all at once. If your behind, your behind, and then they cut you off the same month,” Salinás also added that her average light bill is already over six hundred dollars monthly.
It’s important for Salinás to advocate for manageable bills because she sees many of her neighbors struggle to afford living expenses.
Also in attendance at the assistance event was Manuela De Leon, a local advocate for social justice. She demonstrated the importance of community engagement by showing up for in-person or online meetings and utilizing city and county resources.
“I hope you can come here and get that water bill paid for you because that’s the only way we can do this is to come to these kinds of meetings. We need support from- it’s sad- but it’s got to support from the outside of McFarland,” De Leon stated.