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Many low-income PWSA customers will soon be able to more easily enroll in assistance programs

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Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

State utility regulators have approved additional consumer protections for low-income Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority customers.

The changes were approved unanimously last month by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and had the support of PWSA, the city, the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate, and advocacy group Pittsburgh United.

Among the changes: low-income tenants will soon be able to apply directly to PWSA’s customer assistance programs, which the utility and advocates believe will make it easier to enroll. Currently, enrollment in these programs must be initiated through property owners.

“By creating that direct account relationship with PWSA, they will not have to go through their landlord to be able to apply for those programs. And we're expecting that will boost enrollment,” said Will Pickering, PWSA CEO.

Income-qualified tenants can sign up for a bill discount program; the hardship cash assistance program, which forgives arrears; and a winter moratorium on shutoffs. (Right now, there’s also a separate, statewide water assistance program from federal Covid-relief funds.)

Some PWSA assistance programs have not had robust participation in recent years; renter accessibility was previously cited as a potential cause of low enrollment.

“One of the biggest outcomes [of the approved plan] is going to be that we will see, or should see, an increase in the number of customers who are able to access customer assistance programs because they'll have a more direct connection to their bill rather than having charges passed through the landlord to the tenant,” said Elizabeth Marx, executive director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project. Her organization represents low-income utility customers and also represented Pittsburgh United in the PWSA compliance plan proceedings before the PUC.

Under the agreement that was approved, all tenants – of any income level – who are individually metered and responsible for paying the PWSA bill per their lease agreement can sign up for direct billing. (Tenants will not be required to become customers and can still continue to pay their bill through their landlord.)

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“We want every one of our customers to fully understand their rights and protections and the services available to them, especially when such rights are improved and expanded,” said Julie Mechling, PWSA Director of Customer Service, in a statement announcing the PUC’s approval of the agreement.

Additionally, under the agreement approved by regulators, PWSA must also release a plan that “better defines [its] procedures” related to the collections process.

The changes, which won’t take effect for several months, are required as the final part of PWSA’s transition to state oversight. A 2018 law put PWSA under the regulation of the PUC.

For more information about PWSA customer assistance programs, visit the website or call PGH2O Cares at (412) 255-2457. 

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.