The Metropolitan Sewer District will begin accepting applications for a newly approved Customer Assistance Program (CAP). The CAP offers a 25% discount to low-income senior citizens who meet certain criteria.
The discount is slated to go into effect July 31, 2019.
The CAP is the result of a recommendation from the 2016 Rate Affordability Task Force. As approved by Hamilton County commissioners Tuesday, the program's qualification requirements will be similar to Ohio's homestead exemption. To qualify a person must be 65 or older; own and occupy their home and pay the MSD bill; and qualify for Ohio's homestead exemption. For this year, that means earning less than or equal to $32,800/year.
The 25% discount is higher than what MSD recommended to commissioners but less than what some community members wanted.
"To me, it's a math equation," says Commission President Denise Driehaus, who points out some community members are worried their rates will go up to accommodate lower rates for others.
"If we're working within our budget and we don't want to raise rates, how high is high enough to have an impact and be meaningful but low enough to not increase the rates," she queries. "And as we talk about legislation to expand to other populations ... what I would prefer not to do is go to a discount rate that is so high that as we try to pull in other low-income groups, we have to lower the discount rate. I do not want to do that."
Communities United for Action (CUFA) and the Sierra Club are at the forefront of the push to offer lower rates to seniors and those on limited incomes. Neither is getting everything they wanted, but Wanda Ball of CUFA says the group is optimistic.
"It was a win for the one item and that was [increasing] the discount from 205 to 25%," she tells WVXU. "But we still are trying to work with the state legislature to change the law so that they can expand the program to include renters that pay their own water bill, all seniors regardless of income, and low to moderate income families to be included - renters as well as homeowners."
County commissioners and MSD are pushing the state as well to make changes to the Ohio Revised Code allowing more robust assistance programs. The two are also exploring how the program might be expanded to renters, since most renters don't directly pay for water and sewage.
MSD will run the CAP in-house. CUFA member Wanda Ball expressed concern about how seniors will re-apply for the program each year. MSD Interim Director Diana Christy says they'll simply need to verify each year that nothing has changed.
Notifications about the program and eligibility will be included in your monthly Water Works bill.