New program will pay off overdue water bills for Benton Harbor residents during water crisis

NOW: New program will pay off overdue water bills for Benton Harbor residents during water crisis

BENTON HARBOR, Mi. -- Work is already underway to replace the old lead water service lines underground in Benton Harbor, but it's going to take at least eighteen months to end the city's water crisis-- and residents have still been paying their water bills ever since the high lead levels were discovered in some homes three years ago. 

But a new pilot program from Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services aims to help people who are overdue on paying their water bills: money from the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program will help Benton Harbor residents by paying past-due water and sewer bills-- and will even restore services if they have been disconnected. 

“The water relief program is a great start and example of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services stepping in to help low-income residents to clear the arrears or past due water bills," said Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad. "Now residents won’t have to choose between paying a water bill or previous balance, and buying groceries or paying the light bill. That money can be used in a more resourceful way.”

There is no application required. The city of Benton Harbor is sending a list of eligible residents to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Those residents who qualify—they’ll see the impact on their bill by mid-December,” said Muhammad. 

According to the mayor, the city has not shut off anyone's water services since last year-- and does not plan to-- but paying off overdue water bills will help give peace of mind to residents who still need city water to bathe in and wash their dishes and clothes. 

Muhammad said “That person will no longer have to worry about paying a past due amount, setting up a payment plan—those monies can be used again for other areas of need at this time.”

To qualify for the program, the residents must have an account to pay for city services, and have water and sewer services that are overdue in bill payment or have been disconnected. 

Residents must also "be under the 150% Federal Poverty Limit and/or actively receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Food Assistance Program/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (FAP/SNAP), State Emergency Relief (SER), Social Security Supplemental Income (SSI)," according to the MDHHS. 

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