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Water affordability bills receive first House hearing

Water bill pay
Marco Verch Professional Photographer
Creative Commons
Water bill pay

Legislation heard before the Michigan House Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee Thursday would create a new water affordability program.

To be eligible, a customer’s household income would have to fall below 200% of the federal poverty line and meet one of seven additional requirements.

Those include receiving aid from a state emergency relief program within the last year.

The package aims to keep households from paying more than 3% of their income on water bills.

Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield is among those who testified in support of the bills during a more than three-hour hearing Thursday. She said many residents in her city have struggled paying for water.

“Water is a human right, and depriving residents of access to clean, safe drinking water is inhumane and a serious threat to public health,” Sheffield said.

The legislation would create a new Low-Income Water Residential Affordability Program Fund to help facilitate the water assistance.

Under the bills, that fund would cover administrative costs, payments to providers, overdue bill forgiveness, and water loss mitigation programs.

Money for the fund would come from a $2 monthly fee added to water bills. After three years, that fee could potentially raise to a maximum of $3. The fund would also accept private donations.

During Thursday’s hearing, questions and concerns arose over whether those funds would be used responsibly. Beyond that, there were also worries over whether the program would be abused.

“What really concerns me about this, because there is no expectation of self-reliance, is that this is just another entitlement that is ultimately be borne by all of the ratepayers who are paying their bills in these jurisdictions,” Representative David Prestin (R-Cedar River) said.

But Representative Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) said he doesn’t see that as an issue for the low-income households that would be eligible.

“It’s doubtful that them being able to get a discount for their water bill is going to be the reason why they’d want to live in poverty for the rest of their lives.”

Aside from helping with water bill payments, the package would take aim at preventing shutoffs.

It would create new criteria under which a customer wouldn’t have their water service shut off for non-payment.

That includes for consumers deemed “critical care customers.” Generally, those would be residences where a household member is dependent on water for medical equipment or treatments.

The bills remain in committee.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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