Water is a basic necessity, and the City of Philadelphia wants to ensure every resident has access. While the City can’t eliminate water charges, we are stepping up efforts to help residents struggling to pay their bills.
RaVonne Muhammad is the administrator of the Water Revenue Customer Assistance Division. She has worked for the City for 24 years, and last year helped oversee the rollout of the Tiered Assistance Program, or TAP. We asked her to tell us more about TAP, and how to apply.
What should residents do if they are having trouble paying their water bills?
RaVonne Muhammad: They should immediately call customer service at 215-686-6880 or 215-685-6300, or come into one of the municipal services offices to see one of our customer representatives. You can actually go online and apply, which is new, because we know that a lot of people now are tech savvy. Go to phila.gov/water-bill-help.
When you go the website, you need the Water Access Code from your water bill. That is found in the upper right corner. Once at that site, you have three options: apply online, print the application yourself, or have it mailed directly to you. Customers now have more options available in how to apply.
What information do you need to provide to apply for TAP?
RM: We need your current income. This can include your social security award letter, pension statement, most recent 1040 or pay stubs for the last 30 days. We also need proof of residency – copy of a driver’s license, or current utility bill. We use the submitted documents, and determine what the best program is for you. TAP is a fixed rate that you pay every month. Or perhaps you’re a senior and a Senior Citizen Discount is best for you, or maybe you have a larger balance and you need an extended payment arrangement.
What if I am experiencing a temporary hardship?
RM: That is one of the ways you can qualify for TAP. If you’re having a hardship like a medical issue, the loss of a job, even a child born in the past 12 months, you may be eligible. We consider the hardship, along with your income to make a determination.
If someone is approved for TAP, what happens to the balance and are penalties accrued?
RM: If you are approved for TAP and have a balance, it is suspended while you are on TAP. Let’s say you’re approved to pay $30 a month, that’s your actual bill amount. Any balance you had is suspended. After you make 24 payments of your $30, any penalties that you had will be waived.
The water bills have been updated to show a customer’s TAP History on the second page. It will show the monthly amount, how much they have saved, and how many payments they’ve made to qualify for the penalty waiver.
Are there organizations that can help me to apply to assistance programs?
RM: Yes, we partner with Community Legal Services, UESF, the Neighborhood Energy Centers, and the ECA [Energy Coordinating Agency], and they’ve all be trained to help with the application process. We also have representatives available Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Municipal Services Building from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you come in with your application and your information, we have a representative to let you know if you have everything you need.
What if you’re not sure what program to apply for?
RM: Don’t worry, just apply. We’ll figure out what program fits your case. You don’t even have to be delinquent to apply. Previously you needed to have a balance, to be enforceable. Now, even if you are just struggling, but still manage to pay your water bill, just give us a call, let us see if we can help you.
What if English is not a water customer’s first language?
RM: Information on our website is available in English and Spanish. Also, our applications are available in up to 10 languages. When you go online and request an application to be mailed, you can select the language you speak, and the application will come to you in that language.