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H2O’ Program Aims To Ease Burden Of Water Bills For The Poor

'H2O' Program Aims To Ease Burden Of Water Bills For The Poor

GUESTS:

David Alvarez, San Diego City Councilmember

Seth Gates, deputy director of finance and information technology, City of San Diego Public Utilities Department

Transcript

The San Diego City Council has approved a new program to give assistance to low-income water customers. The program will be run on voluntary donations because of statewide restrictions on utilities.

Four months after increasing water rates, the San Diego City Council on Tuesday approved a program to help poor water customers pay their bills.

The program, branded Help to Others, or H2O, would solicit tax-deductible donations from ratepayers through their water bills. That money would subsidize the water bills of low-income San Diegans.

The program has to be voluntary because of a state law that requires utilities to charge their customers no more than the actual cost of service. The law, Proposition 218, was passed by California voters in 1996 and forbids imposing higher rates on some customers to subsidize others.

"Water is a human right," Councilman David Alvarez said. "We need to be focused on providing this ... to every person, so that everybody can have access to it and everybody can afford it."

Alvarez also commended the Public Utilities Department for other measures it has taken to assist low-income residents, including a two-week grace period for bill payment and a one-time waiver of fees for shutting off or restoring water service.

Administration of the program will likely be outsourced to a local nonprofit organization with experience in evaluating residents' financial needs.

City staffers acknowledge they do not know how much donation money they can get through the program, or how many people it will benefit. They aim to begin a public outreach campaign soliciting donations in April or May, with the goal of giving financial assistance to poor water customers by July 2017.

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