The Public Interest Law Center signed on to a letter along with a group of advocates and organizations that are opposed to Pennsylvania Water Department’s proposed water rate increase.
Pennsylvania Water Department (PWD) is looking to increase the cost of water service by 12% over a two-year period. Through this Right to Water Initiative sign-on letter, we are urging the Water Rate Board not to approve this proposition. If it were approved, it would have a detrimental effect on senior citizens as well as low-income Philadelphians living on a fixed income. They struggle to pay their bills now, and this would raise their monthly water bills by $6.00 and $8.00, respectively.
Section II (1)(b) of the Rate Board Regulation permits for “an open and transparent process for public input and comment on proposed rates and charges.” This is an essential measure as it allows the public to voice their concerns. The board has heard countless concerns about the increased rate and numerous accounts of people already struggling to pay their bills; yet it does not seem to take those concerns seriously.
PWD claims its need for higher rates is based on a declining customer base and decreased water usage, but we believe that this issue is at least in part self-inflicted. With many customers struggling to pay their bills, PWD is very quick to shut off their water, even during winter months. PWD has a Water Revenue Assistance Program (WRAP) to provide affordable monthly payment plans to help resident who are unable to pay their water bills in full, but they fail to effectively implement it and have a 40-45% rejection rate.
Another of PWD’s policies allows for individuals with “tangled titles” to qualify as customers because they are occupants with an ownership interest. Nevertheless, PWD constantly rejects these applicants with tangled titles. Considering over 14,000 properties in Philadelphia are titled to deceased individuals, this problem accounts for nearly half of their lost customers.
The rate increase would go into effect before the implementation of the new Income-Based Water Affordability Program (IWAP). This program will restructure water billing to better account for income inequality by creating a new approach to water affordability. Residents will not be eligible to partake until 2018 are at risk of losing water services and their homes.
We are insisting that the Water Board NOT increase these rates and instead work on increasing PWD’s customer base. We recommend they create additional grant programs and installment plans to help low income Philadelphians make needed repairs to their infrastructure. We implore them to train its staff on the documentation needed to establish a customer account. Finally, we ask them to effectively implement the new IWAP with strong robust arrears forgiveness, an easy enrollment process and sufficient outreach.