When Councilwoman Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez saw her constituent’s water bills, she knew she needed to act. Despite a new assistance plan in place, there were still people who owed thousands of dollars in late and overdue payments.
“This is crazy,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “This is a government owned utility. How did people get into this debt?”
“They had been looking at our existing water revenue assistance program, and they felt that it wasn’t fulfilling a lot of needs,” said Joanne Dahme, general manager of public affairs at PWD. “And we agreed.”
PWD developed a new plan and brought it to the Water, Sewer and Stormwater Rate Board. The board approved the new plan.
“With that approval, and with the City Council ordinance, that required us to establish the TAP (Tiered Assistance Program) program which went into effect in July,” Dahme said.
WRAP will be phased out. New customers requesting help with their bills will be directed to TAP, which will benefit people who’ve fallen far behind on their bill.
“The goal of WRAP was that you’d pay a portion toward your current bill and a portion to your arrears,” Dahme explained. “Under the TAP program, it’s truly a percentage of your income.”
Another difference is TAP only covers people up to 150 percent of the poverty line.
“We were really looking to assist the poorest of the poor,” Dahme said, adding that people at the lowest part of the scale will have the lowest bills. “They can get a monthly bill at about $12 a month.”
Detaching bills from usage caused concern that TAP customers may not conserve water. PWD contracted with CMC Energy Services to directly help customers with conservation.
“TAP customers will be required to participate in our low-income conservation assistance program,” Dahme said. “If we see high usage, we’ll have CMC contact the customer on our behalf. They will … visit the property to interview the customer. [It’s like] an audit to make sure there’s no leaks on the property, to get an understanding on how the customer is using the water and to provide some education.”
CMC will install devices, like low-flow shower heads, and make minor repairs if necessary.
Quiñones-Sánchez said that was a key component.
“We’re going to be able to monitor people’s water and know if they have a leaky toilet or if they have a leaky faucet,” the councilwoman said. “We can do all of that stuff now. This program is going to be huge. I had people with $10,000 [past due] accounts.”
Another concern beyond water-wasters is outright cheaters.
“We always find that neighbors who see people abusing water are usually some of the best eyes and ears in the community,” Dahme said. “They’ll report if they see someone using a hose to run a car wash business on the corner.”
The water department hasn’t exactly abandoned the people making just over 150 percent of the poverty line though.
“For those people who are between 151 and 250 of the federal poverty level, we do have other programs,” Dahme said. “We provide UESF (Utility Emergency Services Fund) with [funding] to assist customers between 151 and 250 of the federal poverty line.”
Note: Unlike many online applications, applicants will not be able to save their progress so the application must be completed in one sitting. Allow one hour to fill it out. Several Free Library of Philadelphia locations offer up to one hour of time on internet-connected computer.
Call (215) 685-6300 to request a paper application be mailed out. PWD requires paper applications to be returned in 14 days. Or go to a Neighborhood Energy Center for help.
– Water Access Code (found on your bill)
One of the following to prove residency:
– Current government issued ID with current address (such as driver’s license or ID card),
– Current rental agreement, or agreement for sale for the dwelling unit,
– Recent utility bill, tax bill, or other tax record (only include the first summary page showing your name and address),
– Lease, rent book or money order receipts that show address.
Information on everyone in the household:
– Names, date of birth, monthly income amounts and Social Security numbers of every person in the household
– Prior year’s federal income tax return, pay stubs, benefit award letters for unemployment, worker’s compensation, social security, pension or welfare benefits
– Income support statement form from whomever is providing support to your household
– Those reporting zero income will need to report on assets like their home, car, savings, stocks, etc.
Hardship documentation– Those applying for special hardship assistance due to an increase in household size, job loss, serious illness, death of the household’s primary wage earner or being a victim of domestic violence, need one of the following:
– Birth or adoption certificate
– Employment termination letter
– Unemployment compensation printout
– Hospital admission or discharge documentation
– Death certificate
– Safe Harbor program documentation
– Monthly expense statements
– Proof of a recent hardship claim approval by a state or local agency
Seniors– The elderly in Philadelphia can get a 25 percent discount if they make less than $31,500 a year.
Charitable organizations– Certain nonprofits can also apply for a 25 percent cut. PWD provides that for charities, churches, nonprofit hospitals, schools and universities. Parties should call 215-685-9651.
-Text and image by Bob Stewart.