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Pennsylvania’s pandemic water aid program will end Oct. 28

  • Kate Giammarise/WESA

 Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

A $43 million federally-funded water assistance program for Pennsylvanians will end later this month. The last day to apply to the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program is Oct. 28.

The program opened in January and soon will have given out roughly $38.2 million in aid, state human service officials estimate, with the remainder being spent on administrative costs and getting the program up and running. The average payment is $550.

To qualify, a household must have past-due water or wastewater bills, have had water service terminated, or received a notice indicating service will be terminated in the next 60 days.

State officials are still encouraging people to apply in the remaining weeks.

“We want to make sure that we utilize all of those funds, and the funds are available,” said Inez Titus, deputy secretary for the office of income maintenance in the Department of Human Services.

The program was modeled on other existing utility assistance programs where payments are made directly to utility companies; more than 800 local water and wastewater authorities and water companies statewide have registered with the state to receive funds from the program.

In Pittsburgh, LIHWAP grants aided about 1,300 households, totaling more than $1.5 million, according to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

Advocates say the program did a good job, but the rapid depletion of available funds – the program was authorized to run until September of next year – shows the need for a permanent water assistance program.

“Pennsylvania spent their money early because we had overwhelming need for the assistance and the money flew out the door,” said Elizabeth Marx, executive director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, which advocates for low-income utility customers. “The good news is we got that a lot of that money out very quickly to those in need. The bad news is there wasn’t enough of it.”

Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Patrick Cicero said the program “helped stave off a wave of terminations, but I am concerned that without ongoing funding we are soon going to see a significant increase in water terminations in the state because we are facing a crisis of water and wastewater affordability in Pennsylvania.”

Water rates for the two largest PUC-regulated systems are now $780-$960 per year for a typical residential customer and more than $2,000 per year if you are also a wastewater customer, Cicero said.

Costs are increasing because of inflationary factors, increased attention to needed infrastructure replacement, and other issues, he said.

“Increasingly, customers of regulated water and wastewater utilities often pay more for water and wastewater service in their home than they pay for electricity or natural gas. We have longstanding funding through [heating utility assistance program] LIHEAP to help struggling households pay for energy costs in the winter, we need permanent and ongoing funding of LIHWAP too,” Cicero said.

More information about LIHWAP and how to apply is available here. Applications can also be submitted at the Allegheny County Assistance Office. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m., Friday, October, 28.

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