Need Help Paying Your PWSA Bill? Many Who Would Qualify For Financial Assistance Aren't Enrolled
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has several programs to help low-income customers who might not be able to afford their water bills – though many people who are eligible for those programs have not signed up.
PWSA officials say they are working hard to raise awareness that help is available, and because of a settlement in the most recent rate case before the Public Utility Commission, plans are in the works to hire outreach workers to get the word out.
“We are pleased to see that enrollment has expanded over the years, in our discount and assistance programs …but we know there are more people out there, people who are eligible, that for whatever reason, are not taking advantage of it,” said Will Pickering, the agency’s CEO.
The authority’s primary customer assistance programs are a bill discount program, the hardship cash assistance program, and the winter moratorium on shutoffs.
The bill discount program gives eligible customers a discount of $35.78 – a 100% discount on the first 1,000 gallons of fixed water charges residents pay.
Enrollment in the bill discount program is up to about 4,200 households, officials said – though they estimate about 20,000 residential customers in the PWSA service area would be eligible for it.
The hardship cash assistance program is to help forgive arrearages. Pittsburghers who aren’t in need can also donate to this fund, and the authority recently sent out a letter soliciting donations. Since October of last year, the program gave out 58 grants totaling $14,000.
PWSA typically has a moratorium on shutoffs during the winter months, though that has been in place longer than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The utility, which provides drinking water to most Pittsburgh residents and sewage service to the entire city, has had a moratorium on shut-offs since March of last year due to the pandemic.
Pickering said the agency knows people are struggling now – while PWSA is not shutting off service, it has twice as many accounts that would be eligible for shutoff as it did at this time last year – approximately 4,500 at this time in 2020, compared to about 9,000 now.
“We have found that without the threat of termination, without that termination notice in place, it is difficult to get the attention of customers who still have debt accumulating,” he said, emphasizing the authority will work with any customer who wants to be put on a payment plan.
Elizabeth Marx, executive director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, which represented Pittsburgh United in the rate case against PWSA, said the agency has done a better job of getting low income customers enrolled in assistance programs compared to several years ago.
“I do think over the years, we’ve seen an awful lot of improvement. But, I will note, there is a long way to go, and the numbers continue to struggle,” she said.
To learn about how PWSA’s customer assistance programs can help you, call PWSA at 412-255-2423 or contact Dollar Energy Fund.