Listed below are the shortcomings of Aqua’s current customer assistance program for water/wastewater under the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission:
- CWA’s full-cost rates are lower than Aqua’s rates even with the full weight of the Aqua discounts applied. A typical residential customer using 4,000 gallons per month would be billed $79.40 per month at Aqua’s full rates. If that customer earns less than 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (about $26,000 per year for a family of four), the discount would reduce the Aqua bill to $30.90 per month, but only for income-qualified customers. CWA’s bill for all customers, regardless of income level, is only $30.54 per month for this service, less than half of what an Aqua customer pays without the discount.
- By Aqua’s own sworn testimony, Aqua anticipates that only 25% of the income eligible population will participate in the customer assistance program. (PA PUC DOCKET NO. R- 2021-3027385; Aqua Statement No. 10; Direct Testimony of Rita F. Black; August 20, 2021; Page 11.)
- At CWA’s rates, about 8% of the households in CWA’s service area receive a water bill that is more than USEPA’s affordability guideline. At current Aqua rates, 25% of all households – one out of every four households – would find water unaffordable. With the Aqua customer assistance program in place and with 25% of the income eligible population participating, 22% of all households in the CWA service area would not be able to afford water. Moreover, 44% of all black households would not be able to afford water service – even with the discount program in effect. That’s about 3 out of every 7 black households.
- The cost of Aqua’s discount program is simply reallocated to other customers who can’t qualify for discounted Aqua rates. For example, a working family earning more than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (about $52,000 per year) does not qualify for any Aqua discount. Yet that same family is burdened with a higher cost of water service to pay for the discount program on behalf of others.
- Low-income families are more likely to be renters. Their landlord is the utility’s customer of record. This means that the renters can’t qualify for the discounted rates but will surely bear the pain of the higher cost of water being passed on by the landlord.
- The purported benefits of regionalization and consolidation under Act 12 have quickly given way to substantial and largely unconstrained rate impacts that threaten the ability of low and moderate-income Pennsylvanians to afford life-sustaining water and wastewater services. In its last rate case concluded in May 2022, Aqua’s rates for wastewater service in Limerick Township increased by 82.2% (PA PUC DOCKET NO. R- 2021-3027385 and No. R-2021-3027386; Commission Final Allowance; Table Act 11 – Water and Wastewater Revenue Requirement – Summary).