BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Some relief is coming for people who lost their jobs in Baltimore.
"Safeguarding the health and economic well-being of our residents is our top priority as the city of Baltimore continues to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak," said Mayor Jack Young.
Young said part of that response meant a change for the Department of Public Works staff and delayed water bills.
"To protect staff from COVID-9, the Department of Public Works put in place a new procedure to enable water billing and customer service staff to tele-work," said Young.
Because the process took a few weeks, bills will resume May 8th and be larger than usual, including part of March and all of April's usage.
To ease the financial burden during this time, Young announced a new Emergency COVID-19 Discount Program for unemployed account holders. You have to show proof of unemployment eligibility to get a 43 percent discount on water and sewer usage charges and the Bay Restoration and Storm Water Remediation fees waived for one year.
"It’s absolutely a really important and really needed first step for folks who are seeking relief form water bills," said Rianna Eckel, with Food and Water Action.
A first step that advocates like Eckel have been pushing for, but they would like to see more.
This discount is an expansion to the current assistance program, so Eckel said right now, most renters don't qualify because their names aren't on their water bills.
"If he’s expanding this assistance to Baltimoreans, it really doesn’t go far enough if it's not extending to 53 percent of Baltimoreans that are renters," said Eckel.
In response, the Mayor's Office replied: "We are happy to include renters, if they have their landlord put their name as the account holder. Otherwise, DPW doesn’t have a relationship with renters. Accounts are linked to meters. If renters have their own meter where water from the City flows to their residence, they can get an account in their name if their landlord changes it. If they are in a larger building, no such individual meters exist."
She also wants to know what is considered proof of unemployment eligibility.
"There are people who have called unemployment offices tens of times unable to get through because their phones are ringing off the hook. So it’s really important that that proof of unemployment eligibility is not contingent on having an application in the works," said Eckel.
To which the Mayor's Office replied: "When someone applies for unemployment, they will receive an email from the state indicating whether they qualify for it or not. That is the information we would need. And it is only the account holder, not spouses or children in the residence."
The online application for the discount is launching May 8th.
DPW encourages customers to continue making payments online using their last water bill as a guide.