LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana — People in Lake Charles who need help paying their water bills will soon be able to apply for grants.

Mayor Nic Hunter told the American Press that the city refrained from disconnecting people who couldn’t pay their bills during the pandemic but months into the pandemic, they’re now asking people to catch up on what they owe.

“With the onset of the pandemic, like many of the utilities, the city of Lake Charles put a temporary hold on water disconnections because we understand what people are going through right now, and the last thing people need is … their utilities cut off,” Hunter told the newspaper.

Catholic Charities is teaming up with the city to help people who cannot pay their bills. Under the program, people who meet certain eligibility requirements can apply to have up to three months of their water bills paid for by a grant. The organization estimates it will be able to help as many as 500 residents.

Sister Miriam MacLean, who heads Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana, said the organization has seen needs increase dramatically.

“Obviously, these have been tremendously difficult months beginning with COVID … and the hurricanes on top of that,” MacLean said. ”It’s really difficult for people right now.”

The mayor also said residents should take a close look at their bills to make sure there aren’t any mistakes. The utility’s equipment for reading meters was severely damaged during Hurricane Laura in August, and officials have had to estimate bills, the mayor said.