Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 20, 2012

West Virginia America Water proposes rate reduction for low-income customers

BLUEFIELD — Low-income residents and senior citizens could see as much as a 20 percent reduction on their water bills as part of a new assistance program proposed by West Virginia American Water.

West Virginia American Water filed a petition with the state Public Service Commission Thursday seeking a rate discount for residents belonging in certain government programs.

If granted, customers who are on Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program or any residents age 60 and older enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could see a 20 percent discount on their monthly bills. A similar discount is already offered to gas and electric companies within the state.

Craig Hammond, executive director of the Bluefield Union Mission, said the assistance program would be a great benefit to many local residents.

“This is very welcome news because many of the people we assist here are on SSI or TANF and they have to pay the same rates as everyone else with what limited resources they have,” Hammond said. “You will find a bigger portion of the resources they have go into just living expenses. I welcome this whole-heartedly. It will have an impact that is measurable.”

Under the program, the average household using 3,550 gallons would see bills discounted from $41.37 per month to $33.10 per month. Households with minimum bills — using 1,500 gallons a month — would see a change in their bills from $21.67 to $17.34 per month. According to Hammond, every dollar saved counts.

“Even just a discount of $5 or $6 a month will buy a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs or butter,” he said.

 “You can really make a difference with that amount of money. When we have people come in to interview for our family food bank, the number one reason they need help is usually a combination of low wages and living expenses. I would like to see this extended to the working poor, who struggle as much as people on TANF and SSI. This is a great start and is something that we will feel right away once it is in place. We applaud West Virginia American water for doing what they can given the strain on their budgets to help.”

Princeton Mayor Patricia “Pat” Wilson said the program would especially benefit area seniors.

“These will be beneficial and help out our senior citizens, which will help out all of us,” Wilson said.

“I think this a wonderful thing. This is the first utility I have heard that is working to lower a bill to help people with their utilities. My hat is off to them. It sounds like a great plan for those citizens who need help.”

However, Blaine Braithwaite, executive director of the South Bluefield Neighborhood Association, said the discount seems too good to be true.

“I would imagine we probably have quite a few people here that might qualify for this program,” Braithwaite said.

“They might attempt to put this into the company’s next rate increase. It is a great program for those people who are financially disadvantaged, though citizens do end up paying for it at some point in time. It is just the way these reduced rate cases end up. This also begs the question about how this will impact sewer and storm water rates, which in a lot of cases are managed by municipalities.”

West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said customer savings would not be subsidized by other customers but rather the company would receive a credit toward state business and occupation taxes for discounts provided.

“While we have made sincere efforts to make water service even more affordable for those customers in the greatest need, water service costs have increased over the years due to much needed capital investment to ensure the reliability of water service and to meet new, more stringent regulations,” he said.

“We embarked on this effort as a way to lessen this impact for customers struggling to make ends meet. With this discount program in place, some customers will now receive this service for even less than a penny per gallon.”

— Contact Kate Coil at

kcoil@bdtonline.comƓ

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