More News:

June 01, 2022

Philadelphia expands protections for residents as water shutoffs are set to return

The policies are meant to protect vulnerable communities from losing service when the moratorium ends later this month

Government Utilities
Water Department Shutoffs Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

The pandemic shutoff moratorium for delinquent water bills is set to expire on June 30, and residents will begin receiving shutoff notices by June 13. In response, the city has expanded protections for low-income and other vulnerable residents unable to afford their water bill.

The Philadelphia Water Department is preparing to send out its first water shutoff notices to city residents in more than two years, as the COVID-19 pandemic moratorium is set to expire on June 30.

On Tuesday, the city released information on new policies meant to protect vulnerable communities from losing water service ahead of the shutoffs. The added protections are meant to separate those who can pay their delinquent water bills from those who can't and provide much-needed exemptions from utility shutoffs.

Notices are set to go out as early as June 10, with service expected to end by July 18. 

Though water shutoff moratoriums are typically implemented in the winter and expire in April, the city extended the moratorium through the beginning of summer in an effort to allow officials from the Water Department to determine how to reduce the number of households that could possibly lose service.

Currently, a delinquent balance of just $150 is enough for a household to receive a shutoff notice. As the city begins to issue notices this summer, that delinquency threshold will be raised to $1,000, providing additional time for residents to find other resources to cover the balance. 

Those who are enrolled in the Senior Citizen Discount Program will be exempt from water shutoffs, as will people enrolled in the Tiered Assistance Program. The TAP affordability program was established in 2017 to provide a consistent monthly water bill based on household income and has provided thousands of residents with a low-cost way to pay their utility bill. 

Those who have applied for Customer Assistance through the Water Department will also be exempt from shutoffs. The city will use its own internal data for other low-income assistance programs — like LIHEAP — and provide additional household exemptions. 

"For the first time, we're able to make sure that people who are being shut off will be given notice even before that, and that they can apply for help from the water department that will prevent them from being shut off," Michael Carroll, deputy managing director for the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability, told WHYY. "These policy changes are designed to focus enforcement on the customers that do have the ability to pay their water bills while protecting those who are vulnerable who can't afford their water bill." 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the city expanded debt forgiveness and payment agreement options to help residents catch up with delinquent payments. Low-income households, seniors and those experiencing special hardships are encouraged to apply online or by phone at (215) 685-6300. 

People can also get in-person help with water assistance applications at more than 20 locations

These protections reduced the overall amount of people at risk of a water shutoff from more than 50,000 to just 20,000, though households who apply for assistance still have a chance of being exempted. 

Households can also check if they're eligible for the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program, an emergency state grant program designed to assist households who are at-risk of losing water service. It does not need to be repaid. Crisis grants are available for a number of special circumstances including past-due water bills or danger of losing utility service.  

The Water Department, PECO and Philadelphia Gas Works are hosting several utility seminars throughout June in order to help residents enroll in utility assistance programs. Each seminar features staff who will go step-by-step in order to help residents fill out assistance applications on Zoom. 

Every Wednesday in June from 4 to 8 p.m. by appointment only, residents who provide photo I.D., proof of residence, proof of income and your last utility bill can receive help. 

There will also be an in-person seminar at the Community of Compassion CDC on Saturday, June 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Residents can select an appointment time here