As Philly water shutoffs return, city rolls out relief policies

Single Water Meter

Water meters. (Fahroni/BigStock)

On Tuesday afternoon, the city of Philadelphia announced a new set of shutoff policies designed to protect residents from losing water service.

“For the first time, we’re able to make sure that people who are being shut off will be given notice even before that, and that they can apply for help from the water department that will prevent them from being shut off,” said Deputy Managing Director for Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability Michael Carroll. “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.”

The policies come ahead of the city’s plan to resume residential shutoffs on July 18 after a two-year moratorium due to COVID-19. They mark the continuation of the Kenney administration’s effort, officials said, to improve public health, and reduce race-based inequities among the city’s Black and brown communities.

The new protections raise the level of delinquency triggering a shutoff from $150 to $1000. They also make multiple groups exempt from shutoffs, including customers enrolled in the Tiered Assistance Program (TAP). customers enrolled in the Senior Citizen Discount program, and customers who’ve applied for Customer Assistance.

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Officials also removed customers who had received homelessness prevention services or Medicaid within the past year from the shutoff list.

So far, these efforts have reduced the number of accounts facing possible shutoff from just over 70,000 to just over 20,000.

“The new changes are showcasing how we will reduce the number of shutoff-eligible accounts by two-thirds,” Carroll said. “These new policies will ensure that our vulnerable residents will not lose water because they cannot pay their bill.”

As for the remaining 20,000 accounts that haven’t been exempted, officials say, there’s still time to avoid a shutoff.

“We hope that the customers that are eligible for shutoffs will take action when they receive their shutoff notice to apply for assistance if they need it,” said Deputy Revenue Commissioner for Water Susan Crosby, adding that officials have worked to make the notices easier to read, with clear information on how to apply for assistance programs.

Among the assistance programs available are:

Customers can request an application or apply for assistance at phila.gov/water-bill-help or by calling (215) 685-6300.

Information and documents for filing an assistance application are also available online.

Customers can also get personalized help through one of six utility fairs being held in June, including five virtual fairs being held over Zoom every Wednesday in June from 4 – 8 p.m., and one in-person fair being held on June 25 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Community of Compassion CDC.

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Appointments are required for both virtual and in-person fairs, and can be made online.a

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