Last week, Community Legal Services learned that the Philadelphia Water Department is proposing to increase water rates by $240 million over the next two years. This increase will raise water bills for Philadelphia families by more than 20%, costing them between $130 and $275 more per year. At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet due to record inflation, a rate increase will make it harder to pay their bills, risking their access to safe drinking water.
No family should lose access to safe drinking water based on their inability to pay. And any rate increase must be structured so that it does not disproportionately fall on the shoulders of Philadelphia’s lowest income families.
To ensure that families can maintain access to water, we call on the City of Philadelphia to take two actions right now:
- Expand Access to the Tiered Assistance Program (TAP). TAP ensures that low-income water customers’ bills are adjusted based on ability to pay. However, too few families know about TAP. The City of Philadelphia has taken some initial steps to boost enrollment through electronic data matching. We applaud this effort and call on the Water Revenue Bureau to increase access to TAP and to ensure that every eligible person is enrolled. We also urge the City to make simple policy changes (such as allowing tenants to become customers and have water bills in their names) that would allow more families to qualify.
- Aggressively Identify, Pursue, and Allocate Federal Funding for Water Infrastructure. Raising water rates should be a last resort after all other options are exhausted. The City of Philadelphia should leave no stone unturned when identifying and seeking out federal funding sources to support the Water Department’s infrastructure needs.
In the coming weeks and months, CLS will serve as the “Public Advocate,” for Philadelphia residents and small businesses, to make sure that the proposed water rates are enacted and implemented fairly. As we learn more about the Water Department’s proposal, we will share our analysis and recommendations with policymakers and the public. In Spring 2023, the Water Department will hold hearings, and we will help families make their voices heard.
To stay updated on these developments, follow @clsphila on social media.