CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland Utilities, in partnership with United Way of Bradley County, is ready to launch a customer-funded community assistance program.
On Thursday, the utility announced that it soon will roll out "Project Round-Up," that will combine spare change from customers to help people who are having difficulty paying their utility bills.
"Project Round-Up, I think, is an exciting voluntary program that could have an amazing impact," said Matt Ryerson, president and CEO of United Way of Bradley County.
The essential donation mechanism of the program takes inspiration from other "round-up" programs offered by Volunteer Energy Cooperative and other utilities in the region, said utility officials. Participating utility customers will have their bills rounded up the next dollar, contributing the difference between the actual bill and the next dollar to Cleveland Utilities. Cleveland Utilities, in turn, gives the money to United Way for disbursement.
"For pennies on the dollar -- literally -- pennies on people's utility bills collectively can have a significant impact on some of the needs in this community," said Ryerson.
No firm numbers were available, said Ryerson, but expectations were quite high on the amount of money Project Round-Up could provide to those in need.
In prior discussions it was estimated that it could generate up to $100,000 annually if only half of Cleveland Utilities' customers participated, said Ken Webb, vice president of the utility's financial division.
United Way of Bradley County "agrees to utilize these funds exclusively for providing community assistance for the support of local citizens who are facing challenges in maintaining utilities, housing and related issues, with a specific emphasis on support of utility needs," according to the partnership's donor restriction agreement.
Project Round-Up funds will be channeled to the Neighbors in Need program, which is administered by case managers at the Caring Place, a community service organization dedicated to helping the needy in Bradley County.
Up to 20 percent of the funding may be allocated to housing and medical needs, but the bulk of the donated dollars must go to paying for utility needs -- and not just for paying Cleveland Utility bills. The program can assist payment for electricity, heating fuel, sewer, and water services, regardless of the provider. Telephone and cable television are not considered "utilities" according to the program.
Cleveland Utilities plans to notify customers of the program in the near future, said Webb. Any customers who do not wish to participate in Project Round-Up may discontinue their contributions by notifying the utility.