RELEASE: What Cities Can Learn from Philadelphia’s Water Affordability Program

Washington, D.C. — States and cities across the country could benefit from a similar program to Philadelphia’s pioneering water bill assistance program, which takes progressive steps to ensure that financially struggling individuals and families can afford their monthly utility payments and keep water running in their homes, according to a new column from the Center for American Progress.

One in five Philly residents—disproportionately black and Latino households—have had their water disconnected at least once since 2012 as a result of falling behind on their water payments.

To mitigate this challenge, through Philly’s new program—the Tiered Assistance Program (TAP)—a resident’s monthly water bill is not based on their consumption but rather set as a percentage of their household income and size. To help keep consumption levels in check, eligible households also receive information on water conservation along with free leak detection tests and low-flow plumbing fixtures.

Once enrolled, TAP participants do not have to make payments on the outstanding balance while in the program. Residents are eligible for balance forgiveness after two years of punctual payments.

“Access to safe, affordable running water is a basic human right, and no American should ever be disconnected from it or risk losing their home simply because they cannot pay their utility bill. Philadelphia personifies its “City of Brotherly Love” moniker by providing a vital example of creative and compassionate policy, even as it deals with an antagonistic White House,” said Rejane Frederick, associate director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at CAP.

Across the country, people are increasingly concerned about affording water services, and with good reason: Water rates have increased around 41 percent in the past seven years. A recent study by researchers at Michigan State University found that 13.8 million U.S. households likely could not afford to pay their water bill in 2014. Repairs to a rapidly aging and strained drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure—challenges that led to lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan—are proving costly at upwards of $655 billion over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, federal fiscal support is decreasing, leaving cities bearing the financial burden to comply with federal laws protecting the health, quality, and accessibility of the nation’s water.

Click here to read “Water as a Human Right: How Philadelphia Is Preventing Shut-Offs and Ensuring Affordability” by Rejane Frederick.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Devon Kearns at 202.741.6290 or dkearns@americanprogress.org.