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Calls for increased water bill relief in Baltimore

Posted at 5:33 PM, Apr 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 17:34:30-04

BALTIMORE — It's an ongoing conversation in Baltimore- water bills. The latest: Mayor Jack Young announced a discount for residents who can prove unemployment eligibility that starts when bills start being issued again on March 8th.

But city council member and advocates are calling for more steps to ease the financial burdens for residents as much as possible and keep people from accruing debt because of water bills.

"We’re talking a level of devastation that I just think is unprecedented," said Councilman Zeke Cohen.

"Our residents are filing for unemployment at a staggering rate," said Councilwoman Shannon Sneed.

Sneed thanked Young for expanding the current assistance program to customers who can prove unemployment eligibility, but during a virtual press conference today, she joined other council members and advocates in calling for more to be done, especially since customers will get larger than usual bills in May because of the Department of Public Works billing delay due to the pandemic.

"We have to continue the fight to ensure that there is fair and equitable water access," said Sneed.

They want to see the discount expanded to small businesses and renters whose names are not on their water bill.

"Renters cannot apply for the discount. They cannot apply for a payment plan unless their landlord intervenes on their behalf," said Zafar Shah with the Public Justice Center. "This is an enormous barrier for many tenants who are more likely to be lower income than homeowners."

This is something advocates said the Water Accountability and Equity Act will fix. Young signed it into law earlier this year but it's not yet been implemented.

"Far too many residents were already struggling with unaffordable water bills before this crisis," said Rianna Eckel, with the Food and Water Action. "The water for all program is needed because it will not only cap water bills at an affordable percentage of household income but it will also create a pathway out of water debt that will be so needed for families who have lost jobs and wages due to COVID-19."

Next Thursday, there is a virtual committee hearing where staff from the Department of Finance and Department of Public Works are expected to give progress updates on the acts' implementation.