04 Mar OWASA Affordability Program Connects Neighbors in Need with Resources to Help Pay Their Water Bills
OWASA’s Affordability Program will focus on the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on customers in 2021.
The OWASA Board of Directors approved an annual update to the six-year-old program at a meeting in early February. That approval came as we are nearing the one-year anniversary of OWASA’s temporary suspension of service disconnections due to non-payment. OWASA was one of the first water utilities in the state to suspend disconnections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has shown that these actions to suspend disconnections of critical services helped slow the spread of the virus.
Currently, OWASA’s moratorium on service disconnections due to non-payment is somewhat tied to the Orange County State of Emergency that remains in effect through at least March 31, 2021.
In an effort to help lessen the financial strain on our customers during the pandemic, a planned rate increase was rejected in 2020 in favor of a budget that did not include a rate increase.
Moving into 2021, the Affordability Program will focus on the eventual resumption of standard collection practices, including the possibility of service disconnections. OWASA has committed to providing at least 30 days’ notice before resuming standard collection practices. Under standard collection practices, a customer who is more than 60 days past due on their bill will be eligible for disconnection.
We will work collaboratively with our community partners to connect customers to utility bill assistance, whether from federal, state, or local funding or from the Care to Share Program. OWASA staff will continue working with local stakeholders to raise awareness of and funds for the Care to Share bill-assistance program, which is administered in partnership with the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC). Care to Share allows customers to make monthly donations through their water bill or one-time donations directly to the IFC to help neighbors in need pay their water bill.
Once the moratorium is lifted, OWASA Customer Service staff will assist customers who are past due on their bill set up extended payment plans.
The Affordability Program update also identifies opportunities to work with community partners to distribute and install water-saving and money-saving technology in the homes of low-wealth customers and promote Agua Vista’s leak alerts to prevent unexpectedly large bills.