City testing the water on income-based utility bills

Philadelphia is in the midst of crafting a broader program that could offer income-based bills and debt forgiveness. Advocates argue that fewer shutoffs can have stabilizing benefits in a community.

News Story (Pennsylvania)

Tricia L. Nadolny
Philadelphia Inquirer
September 7, 2015

Tags: Public Benefits

Organizations mentioned/involved: Community Legal Services (CLS) of Philadelphia


While the department ultimately collects upward of 95 percent of what it bills, the delinquency – about $18 million in fiscal year 2015 – adds up. Still, just 7,200 payers are enrolled in the department’s program for low-income households. In comparison, more than 61,000 are enrolled in a similar program offered by the Philadelphia Gas Works.

Advocates say the low enrollment is due to high barriers to entry, such as paperwork that can be difficult to obtain. Robert Ballenger, a staff attorney at Community Legal Services, which is helping craft the new program, said the process can take months.

Once enrolled, participants can receive an annual grant – often a few hundred dollars – that is spread over their monthly bills. Others are put on debt payment plans.