Baltimore, MD -- At a press availability earlier today, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young announced a new emergency COVID-19 water discount for Baltimoreans. This announcement means that anyone who can prove they are eligible for unemployment can enroll in the existing BH2O Assists program but does not protect tenants or low-income residents who are employed but still face pandemic related financial hardship. Specifications for accepted proof of unemployment eligibility were not listed. The existing program requires tenants to have landlords add them to the water account, which has been a significant barrier to assistance for many renting residents in the City.
The announcement comes after the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition sent a letter to city leaders on April 1st urging them to take broader action on water affordability in response to COVID-19, including expanding assistance to households experiencing job loss and lost wages due to the crisis, and another a letter on April 15th, echoing Councilwoman Shannon Sneed’s call for a 180-day water billing moratorium.
BH2O Assists discounts charges for water and sewer usage by 43% and eliminates the Bay Restoration and Storm Water Remediation fees from the bill. The discount does not apply to the entire bill but only the volumetric usage charges. The Department states that this discount reduces a “typical” residential bill by $40. The expanded eligibility for the discount is effective May 8th through 90 days after the emergency has ended or through the end of the calendar year, whichever comes first. The discount will apply to household water bills for one year. Customers can mail in an application, email a completed application to [email protected], or complete an online application, which Mayor Young says will be live on May 8th.
In response, Rianna Eckel, Senior Maryland Organizer with Food & Water Action issued the following statement:
“We thank Mayor Young for listening to Baltimore residents and water justice advocates by expanding access to the BH2O water affordability program to include those who suffer unemployment because of the COVID-19 crisis. Additional support is crucial as many residents who have lost their jobs as a result of this pandemic already received unaffordable water bills. We urge the Mayor to ensure that all tenants, who make up 53% of Baltimore, are also eligible and able to enroll in this expanded relief program.
“However, Mayor Young must not stop here. The city has missed a critical deadline for the implementation of the Water Accountability and Equity Act, which the mayor signed into law in January. The ordinance required the city to release for public comment draft rules and regulations to establish a comprehensive percentage-of-income water affordability program, but that April 13th deadline came and went without any information from the city.
“The Water for All affordability program will not only cap water bills at an affordable percentage of household income but also will create a pathway out of water debt that will be so needed for families who have lost jobs and wages due to COVID-19. We call on the Mayor to ensure that while families are enrolling in BH2O Assists, that the Department of Public Works meets the July 13th implementation date for the Water Accountability & Equity Act.