As water bills rise, PWSA ramps up efforts to help low-income customers

by Oliver Morrison, PublicSource

Elizabeth Weatherspoon raises two children on a fixed income in the East Hills neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

She receives around $800 per month in disability benefits for herself, another $800 for one of her children and $300 in supplemental nutrition assistance. This puts her just below the federal poverty line.

Any costs that go up by more than inflation can make her even poorer. In recent years, water bills have been going up by almost three times the rate of inflation across the country. And in Pittsburgh, the water and sewage rates have been increasing even faster, about four times faster than inflation since 2017.

The average customer in the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority [PWSA] service area spent about 2.7% of their income on water and sewage. The Environmental Protection Agency considers water and sewage bills above 4.5% to be unaffordable.

 

But in a third of the city’s neighborhoods, at least one in every five customers was spending 10% or more of their income on water and sewage, according to PWSA’s own affordability study in 2019.

Since then, PWSA’s rates have continued to increase, making the bills even less affordable for low-income residents.

Weatherspoon recently had to spend a month in the hospital and fell behind on her water and sewage bill. She found herself more than $700 in debt, so she called up PWSA in March to figure out what she could do.

It’s lucky she called when she did.

 

Elizabeth Weatherspoon photographed at her home in East Hills alongside her son William Green, 4, and daughter Myrakole Green, 14. (Photo by Quinn Glabicki / PublicSource)

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As water bills rise, PWSA ramps up efforts to help low-income customers

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