Can’t afford to pay your water bill? New municipal program offers relief to low-income families

DOWNTOWN – It’s a vicious cycle. People miss a utility bill, pay to turn the water back on, and then face months of late fees and missed payments.

The cycle is all too familiar to many low-income Chicagoans, but a new municipal program will provide these families with lasting debt relief.

The Chicago Utility Billing Relief Program will reduce payments for water, sewer and sewerage for eligible residents. If all reduced payments are made on time for a year, all previous debts will be wiped out, city officials say.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, City Comptroller Reshma Soni and Cook County Economic and Community Development Association CEO Harold Rice announced the initiative on Monday.

“Through this program, Chicago families and communities will now have a path forward to meeting payments, as well as the possibility of full debt forgiveness, helping us build a more equitable, inclusive and fair Chicago.” more optimistic for the generations to come, ”Lightfoot said in a statement.

To be eligible, residents must own a single-family home or apartment and meet the eligibility criteria for the Energy Use Assistance Program for Low-Income Households, which are located in here. Residents can apply for the Utility Billing Assistance Program at here.

The utility relief program made a “soft launch” in April to enroll more than 3,000 people, according to the city.

Debt due to unpaid utility bills has grown dramatically – by nearly 300% – over the past decade or so, according to Lightfoot’s office. Residents owe over $ 330 million in this type of debt.

“The (relief) program is another example of our search for solutions to reform regressive policies that have disproportionately impacted our most vulnerable residents,” Soni said in a statement.

“We have made progress in relieving the debt burden resulting from antiquated practices that have led to income inequality, and the (relief) program builds on those efforts, especially now when so many residents Chicago are crushed under the economic pressures of the COVID-19 crisis.

This is the latest effort to overhaul the city’s ticketing and fines, which has a disproportionate impact on low-income people of color on the south and west sides, a WBEZ / ProPublica the investigation found. the city ​​lets people erase their ticket debt sticker and finished driver’s license suspension for non-driving offenses also.

The statement said the city will focus on collecting utility bills “from those who can most afford it.”

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