SFPUC Contact: Financial Justice Project Contact:
Will Reisman Anne Stuhldreher
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 2, 2021
SFPUC Announces New Pilot Program That Will Offer up to 90 Percent Discounts to Select Eligible Customers
Six-month initiative launched in partnership with the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector’s Financial Justice Project will also include potential debt forgiveness of up to $1,000
San Francisco, CA – With local communities continuing to struggle economically due to the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector’s Financial Justice Project has embarked on an innovative pilot program to provide steep discounts on water and sewer bills to eligible customers.
As of August 1, a contingent of SFPUC customers will receive up to 90 percent off their bills for a period of six months. A portion of those residents will also be randomly selected to receive debt forgiveness for up to $1,000 of back payments owed to the SFPUC if they are able to make six discounted payments toward their monthly bill.
“This pandemic completely upended the lives of our residents, and we are seeing that in the growing number of customers who are amassing an unsustainable amount of utility debt,” said SFPUC Acting General Manager Michael Carlin. “We know that our low-income residents have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, so we need to explore creative and data-backed relief programs to help our customers in these times of extreme need.”
Since March 2020, the number of SFPUC accounts that are delinquent has grown by 250 percent. During that same time period, the average balance of delinquent single-family accounts at the SFPUC has increased by 93 percent to more than $1,000 of debt per household.
To address this growing issue, the SFPUC is launching the six-month pilot program—called the Community First Bill Relief Program—in partnership with the Financial Justice Project in the San Francisco Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector.
“Too many San Francisco families have been hit hard by COVID-19 and are struggling to get back on their feet,” said Treasurer José Cisneros. “Targeted debt relief is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. This pilot program will help us learn how to right-size utility bills for low-income families.”
Over the course of the pilot, the SFPUC and the Financial Justice Project will analyze customer payment data and administer participant surveys to measure program impact. The SFPUC anticipates that the pilot results will show that bill discounts, paired with a debt relief incentive, will directly relieve pressure on struggling customers, while helping them to get back on track with their utility bills.
Funding for the pilot will come from philanthropic funds provided by the San Francisco Foundation. A permanent program would need to be supported from federal or state assistance programs.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the SFPUC has embarked on a series of bill relief programs to help its customers. In April, the agency announced that it would be extending its Emergency Residential Customer Assistance Program for the third time.
The initiative, which offers discounts of 35 percent off sewer bills, 30 percent off Hetch Hetchy Power bills and 15 percent off water bills to eligible customers, is now set to expire in March 2022. To date, more than 6,500 customers have benefitted from the program, receiving an average of $52 off their monthly bill.
In July 2020, the SFPUC launched its Emergency Nonprofit and Small Business Assistance Program which offers 20 percent discounts on sewer and water bills for eligible small businesses and non-profits. Since that program began, more than 860 nonprofits and small businesses have benefitted, receiving an average of $103 off their monthly bills.
While the SFPUC has extended these emergency assistance programs as a short-term solution to the financial difficulties brought on by the coronavirus crisis, the agency is working to ensure its customers benefit from new emergency assistance programs funded by state and federal dollars and advocating at the federal level for long-term funding solutions to the affordability issues facing its customers. Additionally, the SFPUC is calling for increased federal investment in utility infrastructure to ensure that rates remain affordable for all ratepayers.
Customers can learn more about SFPUC bill relief programs at sfpuc.org/billrelief. SFPUC payment plans are also available for customers who need more flexibility paying their utility bills by calling customer service at 415-551-3000.
The SFPUC already offers discounted rates to customers whose income makes them eligible under federal guidelines through its permanent Community Assistance Programs (CAP) for water and sewer and Hetch Hetchy Power. The agency is working to update these permanent programs in the coming months, in part based on findings from the pilot program launching in August.
About the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is a department of the City and County of San Francisco. It delivers drinking water to 2.7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area, collects and treats wastewater for the City and County of San Francisco, and generates clean power for municipal buildings, residential customers, and businesses. Our mission is to provide our customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that values environmental and community interests and sustains the resources entrusted to our care. Learn more at www.sfpuc.org.
About the Financial Justice Project
San Francisco is the first city and county in the nation to launch a Financial Justice Project to assess and reform how fees and fines impact our city’s low-income residents and communities of color. Fines, fees, and financial penalties can trap low-income residents in a maze of poverty and punishment and prevent people from succeeding. The Financial Justice Project works with community groups, city and county departments and the courts to advance reforms that work better for people and for government. With its partners, the Financial Justice Project has eliminated or adjusted dozens of fees and fines to lift a financial burden off of struggling residents. The Financial Justice Project is housed in the San Francisco Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector.