How Water Utility Customer Assistance Programs can help build resilient, healthy communities

Water is the thread that weaves together our daily lives.

Access to safe and reliable water is fundamental to the health of our communities, the well-being of our families, and our own prosperity and dignity. However, costs related to inflation, water utility operations and maintenance, repairs to aging infrastructure, and much-needed innovations are rising. All of these investments are needed for a more secure water future, but in the U.S., water customers largely bear cost increases and an increasing number of households are unable to pay their bills.

17% of U.S. households struggle to afford basic water services, but local utilities and their customer assistance programs are bringing hope (and clean water!) to communities across the country. Duke 2023

By supporting both federal funding for water assistance and local water assistance programs, you can help communities thrive for generations to come. Together, let’s unlock the potential of water for prosperity. Learn more about the promising programs that are making a difference across the United States. 

What are Customer Assistance Programs? 

Customer Assistance Programs (or CAPs) are a range of tools that water and wastewater utilities have developed to assist customers that have difficulty paying for water, wastewater, or stormwater services. CAPs may reduce a customer’s bill, create more flexible terms for payment, provide a subsidized rate for a fixed amount of water, help customers on a short-term or one-time basis, or provide help with leak repairs or water-efficiency upgrades. Here are some of the many examples of successful customer assistance programs helping communities across the country:  

  • The San Antonio Water System Uplift program has 14 assistance initiatives accessed through a streamlined, one-form application. Uplift programs include Courtesy Hold, Reduced Meter Service Fee, Leak Adjustments, Reduced Meter Service Fee, and Senior Citizen Billing.
  • The Philadelphia Water District offers a one-stop application process providing a Homeowners Emergency Loan, Grants, Water Conservation Housing Stabilization, and Flexible Term programs to customers who are having difficulty paying taxes or water bills.
  • Seattle Public Utilities bill assistance consists of Payment Plans, Bill Discount and Emergency Assistance programs that offer flexible terms, water and sewer bill discounts, and payments towards bills and past due balances, respectively. The utility also provides financial incentives such as Stormwater Facility Credits and conservation incentives.
  • The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District cost-saving programs include a Homestead program for senior citizens, Service Rate Reduction of 40% for eligible community members, Crisis Assistance, and Stormwater Fee Credits. 

What can we do to support customer assistance programs in our communities? 

Community members can partner with their utilities to advocate for permanent federal funding for assistance programs, sustain and create assistance programs, and where possible, contribute to their utility’s Community Donation Fund. By learning more about your local water and spreading the word about the importance of universal water access, we can create a legacy of equal opportunities, improved health, and a sustainable water future.