COVID-19 in Philly: City water department extends shut-off moratorium

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By Donald Hunt

PHILADELPHIA — In an effort to help customers who are unable to pay their bills, the Philadelphia Water Department and the Water Revenue Bureau have agreed to postpone all water shutoffs for residential and commercial customers through June 1.

The announcement extends the original postponement period, which prevented delinquent accounts from being shut off through May 15, the Water Department said in a press release. The freeze on shutoffs is intended to help residents who are suffering financially because of stay-at-home orders imposed in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“As our community follows stay-at-home orders, we understand there are broad consequences for many customers. To ensure that those struggling financially will not lose water needed for drinking, washing hands, bathing and cooking, we are putting a temporary freeze on water shutoffs, effective through June 1, 2020,” commissioner Randy Hayman said in a statement.

“It is still important to pay your bill if you can, as all of our operations are funded by revenue from water bills. While we are not shutting people off, customers will still receive a bill and that balance will continue to accumulate as water services are used.”

Customers who can’t pay their bill can apply for assistance by going to www.phila.gov/waterbillhelp.

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The city’s Tiered Assistance Program (TAP) gives discounted water bills based on income. Customers can apply for a Special Hardship discount. Qualification for the discount is determined on a case-by-case basis and could help customers who can’t pay their bill due to loss of employment, hospitalization as well as other situations.

“We have been working for years to help customers who have a tough time making ends meet, and we encourage those now facing financial issues to apply for help right away,” Hayman said.

Processing times for customer assistance applications are expected to be longer because of limited resources for staff working remotely.

“These steps are necessary to provide a safe workplace for employees, and we ask for patience from our customers during this health crisis,” Deputy Revenue Commissioner Michelle L. Bethel-Miller said in a statement.

The Water Department’s customer field service crews have been working to restore water service to all delinquent residential and commercial customers.

In addition, as a temporary measure, all penalties and late fees for water bill payments are suspended until further notice for residential and commercial customers. The department will continue to review that decision with guidance from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, according to the release.

Donald Hunt is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.