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The tap is open: A new Pennsylvania program is helping residents cover unpaid water bills

Hands being washed.
Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
Help with past due water bills is available through the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program.

Funds are flowing from Pennsylvania’s new water assistance program.

More than 30,000 Pennsylvanians have applied to a $43 million federally-funded program to help households behind in their water bills.

The state has paid out more than $6 million, as of early March, according to data about the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program released by Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services.

It has made about 12,000 payments directly to utilities, according to the department; a household can be eligible for more than one payment.

Local water and wastewater authorities must sign up with the state in order for their customers to use the program. Some advocates had been concerned this could be a problem, as there are hundreds of such entities statewide and many are small.

Close to 600 have signed up to be vendors, according to the Department of Human Services.

Several local water authorities said they’ve signed up and the program is running smoothly.

“It’s working out very well for both the customers and the authority,” said Jim Matta, general manager at the New Kensington Water Authority, which serves New Kensington, Lower Burrell, and several other communities.

At the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, more than 200 customers have received more than $55,000 in assistance, said spokesman Matthew Junker. The agency also promotes the program on social media and on its website, he said.

More than 150 customers of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority have received assistance totaling more than $112,000, according to that agency.

“It was a pretty quick ‘Yes’ from everyone on council to get us enrolled into this program. You know, it was kind of a no brainer,” said Aaron Adams, a city councilman in Duquesne. The city’s water department serves about 2,000 households, he said.

A January survey by the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association found about half of the group’s members who responded had signed up for the program, said Jennie Shade, the association’s director of government relations.

The program’s maximum benefit is $2,500 for water and $2,500 for wastewater per household.

Pennsylvanians can apply for LIHWAP at county assistance offices, online at, or by calling 877-395-8930 to request an application be mailed to them.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.