Deondra “Dee” Hagans has always had the desire to help people. “I like being able to better the lives of the people I come in contact with,” she says. That’s why she has always worked in public service in some capacity. It’s also one of the things that excites her the most about her new role as a Customer Service Representative, working with both Charlotte Water and Mecklenburg County’s Department of Social Services (DSS): “This partnership between the City and County allows me to help residents get connected to resources that they need most.”
As a liaison between both departments, Deondra will be able to work as a City and County representative to help residents get connected to financial aid assistance and resources they qualify for. Dee has an extensive background in financial assistance, including five years working with DSS in their Economic Services division. However, this new position and role is especially important because of how it was created and the purpose it serves.
During the COVID pandemic, Charlotte Water saw the financial strain the pandemic had on customers. To decrease some burden, late fees were lifted, disconnections were suspended, and payment plans were extended so families had access to water services during financial hardship. As the pandemic continued, financial assistance through grants, community programs and state and federal funds, were allocated to families to help cover rent, utilities, food, and other necessities. One such state program was the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) that focused specifically on helping residents with their outstanding water bills. The state sent the funds to the County, who would then distribute it to households in need.
To accomplish this, Charlotte Water and DSS had to work closely together. Representatives met weekly to create a process that was the best way to determine and distribute the funds. Details from how residents applied for aid, to how to help people who were not eligible were discussed.
In the end, DSS and Charlotte Water decided to auto-match the funds to accounts that qualified. Charlotte Water would send a list to DSS of accounts that were overdue or at risk of being disconnected when regular billing procedures resumed. DSS would check if those accounts had already become eligible for other aid and match them with funds through the LIHWAP program. Those who were eligible would receive a one-time credit that cleared their balance.
Because of the collaboration, thousands of residents were able to get a financial fresh start when account balances were forgiven. As more funds were released, DSS and Charlotte Water saw an opportunity to create a full-time position between the two departments that would be bigger than just the LIHWAP program. Charlotte Water is always looking for ways to connect customers to the financial aid available and DSS understands that if you need water bill assistance during a financial hardship, there’s a possibility you might need other financial assistance as well.
The new role, and Dee, are opening up opportunities for future partnerships between the City and the County that will benefit our community. “Being able to work with both agencies means I have the ability to help the customers in several ways, versus just one area of need they might have,” says Dee. “It’s a win-win-win for everyone.”
On April 25, representatives from Charlotte Water and Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services celebrated the ongoing partnership between the two agencies.