Behind on your water bill? A new Pennsylvania program kicking off in 2022 aims to help
A new, federally funded program that aims to help low-income households behind in their water bills will start taking applications on Tuesday.
Pennsylvania households collectively owe more than $50 million in overdue water bills, according to information the state’s Department of Human Services submitted to the federal government.
The program will be funded by more than $43 million from the federal American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Joe Biden in March, and other federal funds.
The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program “should provide a critical gap-filler for households struggling to get righted after the pandemic and to catch up with water and wastewater arrears,” said Elizabeth Marx, executive director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, which assists low-income customers with utility bills.
“Many households are in danger of losing — or have already lost — their water services due in great part to the COVID-19 pandemic. As pandemic related moratoriums on terminations are lifted, low-income households in Pennsylvania are susceptible to great harm if these essential water services are disconnected,” state officials wrote to federal regulators.
The state’s plan prioritizes restoring water service to households without it and paying off overdue bills to prevent disconnection. Applicants will need to prove they owe a back balance and are responsible for the water or sewer bill.
The funds must be used by September of 2023, and the program will run until funds run out, said Inez Titus, deputy secretary for the Office of Income Maintenance in the state’s Department of Human Services.
Water and wastewater utilities must be signed up with the state for their customers to use the program.
Titus said outreach to water and wastewater authorities is ongoing.
“That … has been a bit of a challenge, making sure that local water and wastewater authorities, especially some of the smaller ones and in more rural areas of the state where they're not hooked into this yet, they may not have signed up to become a vendor. In fact, they may not even know about the program,” Marx said, adding there are more than 1,200 such entities statewide.
The program’s maximum benefit is $2,500 for water and $2,500 for wastewater per household.
Pennsylvanians can apply at county assistance offices, online at https://www.compass.state.pa.us/, or by calling 877-395-8930 to request an application be mailed to them, starting Jan. 4.