Making Water Accessible and Affordable in Philadelphia

Debra McCarty, Philadelphia Water Commissioner | July 19, 2017

There’s no doubt that rising water rates can have a significant impact on low-income families in Philadelphia.  That’s why the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) is expanding our customer assistance programs.

The cornerstone of this effort is the new Tiered Assistance Program (TAP), which goes live on July 1. TAP is a billing assistance program that ensures low-income customers’ bills are affordable in relation to their income.  We are very excited about the potential of TAP to better meet the needs of our customers who are struggling to pay their bills and to maintain their vital water service.

TAP is the result of a dedicated collaboration between Philadelphia’s City Council, its public advocates, and the Water and Revenue Departments, and is one of the first percentage-of-income assistance programs for a water utility in the country.

How does TAP differ from our current low income assistance program?  

  • Under TAP, monthly bills are based on income for customers at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. Monthly bills can range from 2–4% of a customer’s total household income. Customers in the lowest income bracket may have a minimum bill of $12 per month.
  • Customers pay a consistent monthly bill, making it easier to budget and plan.
  • Old debt is suspended when enrolled in TAP. And new debt is not accumulated as customers are not responsible for the difference between their bill based on usage and their TAP bill.
  • Customers with high water consumption are provided assistance to lower their consumption through various conservation measures.
  • Customers who pay their monthly bill without missing a payment for two years will have past penalties forgiven.
  • Customers do not need to be behind on their bills to qualify. Anyone struggling with his or her water bill should apply.

Under TAP, the City has the potential to help 60,000 low-income customers (13% of the residential account base) to maintain their water services and reduce their monthly bill, a significant increase over the 10,000 customers who are enrolled in our current assistance program.

We have high hopes for TAP to meet our goal of ensuring that low-income water customers maintain their service as we recognize how important water access is for all.

TAP is featured as a promising practice in the US Water Alliance’s national briefing paper An Equitable Water Future, and we hope it will inspire other utilities as they address water affordability issues.