Baltimore to offer water billing discount for unemployed residents, but advocates say it doesn’t go far enough

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After two months without water bills, Baltimore City will resume billing on May 8 but will also offer a discount for any account holder who shows proof they are eligible to collect unemployment benefits, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced Wednesday.

“Safeguarding the health and economic well-being of our residents is a top priority as the City of Baltimore continues to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak,” Young said. “A key part of that response is ensuring the delivery of safe, clean drinking water.”

Billing cycles for March and April had been delayed while staff shifted to teleworking in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Young said.

He said residents can expect to see a “larger than normal” water bill, including part of March and all of April.

On March 13, Young announced the Department of Public Works would not shut off the water of residents who are unable to pay their bills during the pandemic. Late fees were waived on March 19. The Department of Public Works is also offering payment plans for anyone who is having trouble paying their bill.

The city will discount water and sewer charges by 43 percent, and will not charge Bay Restoration and Stormwater Remediation fees, Young said.

That discount will begin May 8 and will remain available until 90 days after the end of the state of emergency or Dec. 31–whichever comes first. Residents who receive a discount on their water bill will receive that discount for one year, Young said.

People can apply for the discount at cityservices.baltimorecity.gov/bh20.

Young’s announcement comes after Councilwoman Shannon Sneed (District 13) called for a 180-day moratorium on water bills earlier this month.

“Baltimoreans need water bill relief now,” Sneed wrote in a letter to Young on April 9. “We ask that you relieve residents of water bill payments immediately to help combat this economic devastation head on.”

The advocacy group Food & Water Watch said Young’s water bill discount is “a great first step but still fall short.”

Although the discount allows people eligible for unemployment to enroll in the city’s existing BH20 Assists program, it does not protect tenants and low-income Baltimoreans who are facing coronavirus-related financial difficulties while still being employed, the coalition said.

“The existing program requires tenants to have landlords add them to the water account, which has been a significant barrier to assistance for many renting residents in the City,” they said.

Rianna Eckel, an organizer with Food & Water Watch, also called on the city to release a draft of rules and regulations for a program signed into law this year that ties billing to income.

“The Water for All affordability program will not only cap water bills at an affordable percentage of household income but also will create a pathway out of water debt that will be so needed for families who have lost jobs and wages due to COVID-19,” Eckel said.

Marcus Dieterle


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