Philly offers new help on water bills for those in need

 Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Debra McCarty explains a new program that will help low-income residents reduce their water bills. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Debra McCarty explains a new program that will help low-income residents reduce their water bills. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

To help consumers avoid water shutoffs and falling behind on water bills, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has introduced the Tiered Assistance Program to cap water bills based on a customer’s income.

Families earning up to 150 percent of the federal poverty line qualify for the program known as TAP that will limit bills to 4 percent of household income and start at $12 a month.

Many poor families endure a lot more than inconvenience when they lose water service, said attorney Robert Ballenger with Community Legal Services.

“I had clients collecting rainwater, and that puts people in real jeopardy … for health and safety,” he said. “You can lose your house, of course, if you can’t keep up with water bills. And families with small children are potentially at risk for losing custody when they don’t have utility service.”

“Forty-four percent of the homeowners had a water debt. These are people struggling every day to afford their home,” said Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez.

City officials estimated about 60,000 customers — or about 10 percent of Philadelphia households — qualify for TAP.  Applications will be available July 1 on the Philadelphia Water Department website.

The TAP program is replacing the current water revenue assistance program or WRAP.

To enroll in TAP member, it’s not necessary to be behind on your bill. Past due amounts are suspended while a customer is in the program.

“Due to how this program is designed, we anticipate fewer delinquencies and water shutoffs,” Kenney said.

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