For low-income residents, Philadelphia unveiling income-based water bills

The Philadelphia Water Department next month will launch a low-income assistance program that offers payments starting at $12 per month and is open even to those who haven’t fallen behind on their bills. For those who have, that debt would be forgiven after two years of on-time payments.

Officials are hoping to enroll upward of 50,000 households, five times those in the city’s current program for low-income payers.

“A lot of assistance programs require people to be delinquent. This is innovative in that it’s giving people an affordable rate so they’re able to stay current,” Revenue Commissioner Frank Breslin said. “We are really putting an affordable bill in their hands.”

The expanded assistance program, estimated to cost $18 million annually, already has affected water rates. It was factored into the rate increase that started in July 2016,  and will total 10 percent over two years.

The program, which will be unveiled by Mayor Kenney’s administration Tuesday and open for applications July 1, was more than two years in the making. It was developed out of a growing frustration with the city’s options for those who struggle to pay their utility bills.

The pool is substantial; About 40 percent of payers are behind on their water bills, for a total delinquency of about $262 million, according to the Water Department. The department offers payment plans and some discounts, but customers must be past-due to apply.

Under the new model — a tiered-assistance program, thus the name TAP —  payments will be tied to a household’s income, not water usage. (Customers with unusually high usage, potentially a sign of a leaky pipe or running toilet, will be…

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