Read the press release below from Philadelphia City Council, which just passed a water affordability program:

QUINONES-SANCHEZ LEGISLATION TO IMPROVE WATER BILL COLLECTIONS, PROTECT LOW-INCOME WATER CUSTOMERS, PASSES CITY COUNCIL

Office of María Quiñones-Sánchez
Councilwoman, 7th District
City Hall, Room 592
Philadelphia, PA 19107
215-686-3448
Contact: Jennifer Kates
Email: Jennifer.Kates@phila.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — June 18, 2015

QUINONES-SANCHEZ LEGISLATION TO IMPROVE WATER BILL COLLECTIONS, PROTECT LOW-INCOME WATER CUSTOMERS, PASSES CITY COUNCIL

PHILADELPHIA — Legislation sponsored by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez to improve water bill collections and institute a new program to protect low-income water customers unanimously passed City Council today. It now heads to Mayor Michael Nutter for signature.

The legislation, Bill 140607, would establish an Income-Based Water Revenue Assistance Program, or IWRAP, to ensure low-income Philadelphians’ water bills are affordable in relation to their income. It would also encourage increased collections and water conservation measures.

With this legislation, Philadelphia will join the forefront in best practices related to water access. Last year, experts from the United Nations stated in response to mass shut-offs in Detroit that “[i]t is contrary to human rights to disconnect water from people who simply do not have the means to pay their bills.”

“Access to safe drinking water is a necessity. This legislation removes longstanding obstacles that have prevented low-income and vulnerable Philadelphia families from access to this right by burdening them with expensive water bills. At the same time, this bill will allow the Water Revenue Bureau to focus on increasing collections by removing inefficiencies,” said Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez. “I would like to thank Mayor Nutter and my colleagues on Council for working with us to achieve a common-sense solution to ensure that no one in Philadelphia is priced out of water service because of their income.”

The legislation would require the Water Revenue Bureau to offer income-based payment plans to low-income residential customers and others who can demonstrate a financial hardship. Customers would have to provide proof of income during a streamlined and transparent application process. It is modeled off of successful low-income assistance programs at other utilities, including the Philadelphia Gas Works and PECO.

The Water Revenue Bureau would be required to take steps to ensure customers who qualify are enrolled in the new program by providing customers with information about income-based payment plans when they contact the city for assistance.

To prevent Philadelphia residents from losing their homes to foreclosure because of past-due water bills, the legislation would also increase protections for residential customers who are struggling to pay their bills and by providing referrals to housing counselors and nonprofits who can help with enrollment.

The ordinance would also focus the Water Revenue Bureau’s collections efforts by allowing for the forgiveness over time of past-due bills from customers who are successfully enrolled in the new low-income assistance program, modeled after similar successful programs run by the utilities PECO and PGW.

“This legislation will improve collections because experience shows that customers are more likely to pay their utility bills when they are affordable,” Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez said. “At the same time, this program will prevent families who are doing their best and following the rules from being crushed under old and uncollectable debt.”

The ordinance would replace an older assistance program that suffered from unclear guidelines and inconsistent rules. Under the legislation, the Revenue Department will propose a set of clear eligibility guidelines based on census data that will be approved by Council in October. Council and the administration will also receive regular reports on the effectiveness of the program.

In addition to Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez, the legislation was co-sponsored by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and Councilman Curtis Jones.

###

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *