CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About 10 percent of West Virginia American Water's customers might be eligible for a discount program the utility company announced the creation of Thursday.Certain low-income customers would be able to receive a 20 percent discount on their monthly bill, saving about $100 per year, West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Laura Jordan said.Some customers would pay less than one penny per gallon, company President Jeff McIntyre said in a news release.The water company filed a petition Thursday asking the West Virginia Public Service Commission to approve the discount program.
If approved, the program would be open to customers who receive Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families-Unemployed Parent Program (TANF-UP) or assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).Customers in the SNAP program are eligible if they are 60 or older.The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources manages the discounted rate program, which already is offered for electricity and gas utilities, Jordan said."Until recently, this program was only available to gas and electric customers through West Virginia law. We recently worked through the legislative process to have this expanded to have it include private water companies," Jordan said. "The Public Service Commission helped us get legislation passed and they're very excited for us, since it's worked well for gas and electricity. We want to make sure we have the same program to help people in the greatest need."The welcome news will provide eligible customers with more flexibility in their household bills, said Tom Hunter, AARP associate state director of communications.Many of West Virginia American Water's low-income customers take in less than $1,000 a month, Hunter said. To save money on utility bills, some elderly customers turn off their oxygen machines or forgo purchasing prescriptions. Being able to save money on a necessary utility helps with their struggles, Hunter said."You've seen escalation in utility rates all across the board over the past decade," Hunter said. "The decision by West Virginia American Water to provide this low-income rate discount for qualifying customers provides a sense of relief to those ratepayers who have struggled the most."If the program is approved by the PSC, eligible customers would receive an application in the mail from the DHHR, Jordan said. Customers would then mail the application to West Virginia American Water and the company would enroll them in the program, she said.The water company anticipates that customers would see the rate discount beginning in the fall. Messages would appear on customers' water bill and on the company's website, Jordan said."We still need approval from the state Public Service Commission," Jordan said. "At this point in time, we can't answer questions and get people enrolled yet, but we will implement it and work with DHHR."In the petition sent to the PSC, West Virginia American Water asked to be reimbursed by way of a credit through the state business and occupation tax, Jordan said. Other West Virginia American Water customers would not be responsible for funding it, she said.
Under the program, the average residential household bill (3,550 gallons) would be discounted from $41.37 to $33.10 per month and the minimum bill (1,500 gallons) would be discounted from $21.67 to $17.34 per month, according to the water company's news release.In the release, McIntyre said, "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," McIntyre said. "We embarked on this effort as a way to lessen this impact for customers struggling to make ends meet."Although water and sewer bills are among the lowest household bills West Virginians pay, our rates must reflect the true cost of providing service, which includes our capital investments as well as all of the operating costs associated with the treatment, monitoring and distribution of your water."In the past, West Virginia American Water has offered utility assistance through the Dollar Energy Fund, which has provided one-time grants to a few hundred eligible customers each year.For information, visit www.westvirginiaamwater.com
or call the 24-hour customer service center at 800-685-8660.Reach Megan Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.