Philly water bill changes aim to prevent shut-offs

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Water service to more than 100,000 Philadelphia households will be protected when shut-offs resume in July for the first time in two years, city officials said Tuesday.

Anyone who applies for help in paying their water bill will not be disconnected, and neither will those enrolled in Philadelphia Water Department assistance programs.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is also identifying property owners receiving low-income benefits and exempting them from shut-offs.

In addition, PWD customers won’t be considered for a shut-off until they have accrued $1,000 in water bill debt, compared to $150 previously.

Due to the policy changes, about 50,000 residents who were set to receive shut-off notices as soon as next month are no longer at risk of being disconnected.

The new guidelines are “consistent with the Kenney administration’s commitment to reversing government practices that have contributed in the past to racial inequities,” Deputy Managing Director Mike Carroll said.

“These policy changes are designed to focus enforcement on the customers that do have the ability to pay their water bills while protecting those who are vulnerable who can’t afford their water bill,” he added.

PWD suspended shut-offs in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic but will again be disconnecting delinquent customers beginning July 15. Notices will start getting mailed out June 10.

About 75,000 households are now exempt from water shut-offs because they received Medicaid or homeless prevention services over the past year. The Mayor’s Office used data-matching tools to make the list.

Anyone signed up for PWD’s Tiered Assistance Program (TAP), an income-based payment plan, is also shielded, as are those receiving the department’s 25% discount for seniors with a household income below $32,300.

In addition, customers who use PWD’s application to apply for financial assistance won’t be shut off, even if they submit their form after receiving a notice in the mail.

The application, which can be completed online, is available at water.phila.gov/cap and provides information about TAP and the senior’s discount.

PWD also highlighted a new state initiative called the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program, or LIHWAP, which provides grants up to $5,000 to help families cover unpaid water bills.

After applying the exemptions and accounting for the bill debt change, the number of residents scheduled to be shut off dropped from around 70,000 to just over 20,000, according to the Kenney administration.

Prior to the pandemic, the city typically instituted a water disconnection moratorium during the winter, resuming in April, but the administration delayed the shut-offs this year to ensure additional protections were in place, said Deputy Revenue Commissioner Susan Crosby.


 

Metro is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Phillya collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly

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