In a move that would make it the first city in the country to do so, Philadelphia is planning to roll out a program that will drastically lower water bills for low-income households. The plan is designed not only to give the poor lower utility costs, but also to deal with the city’s overwhelming utility delinquency problem.
The program, called TAP for Tiered Assistance Program, will go into effect next month. A major selling point is that residents do not need to be behind on their bills, which is usually a condition of utility assistance programs. TAP will be available not just to those household living under the poverty line, but also for families making 150 percent or less of the poverty level. For a family of four, this works out to $36,900. Special cases will be considered when a family is above the cutoff but still requires assistance, such as in cases of job loss or domestic violence.
“Any customer that’s struggling to pay their bills, we want them to apply to the program,” Deputy Revenue Commissioner Michelle Bethel said.
The special water bills will be based on a percentage (2-4%) of household income and will start at just $12 per month. Officials are hoping to enroll 50,000 households, which is five times the amount being served by the city’s current low-income utility assistance program.
The city is hoping to address the rampant issue of utility bill delinquency. According to an official statement, about 40 percent of payers are currently behind on their water bills, for a total of $262 million. Under TAP, if customers make steady payments for two years, they can be eligible to have their past-due bills forgiven.
Regular water rates are being increased by up to ten percent to pay for the program, which has a budget of $18 million. The Water Department says it cannot be sure if bills will be raised further until it sees how many families enroll in the program.