By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New help will be available for Philadelphia residents who are behind on their water bills under a program being unveiled Tuesday in City Hall.

The program is called TAP, or Tiered Assistance Program. It offers participating customers a fixed-amount monthly bill, based on their income. Community Legal Services Attorney Rob Ballenger says there are about 60,000 households that need such help.

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“Twenty, 25 years ago, water bills were really not that significant a burden,” Ballenger said. “Now, a monthly water bill is approximately the same as an electricity bill.”

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And, just as with other utilities, families that fall behind are faced with shut-off and end up living without running water, which carries not only a social cost but a loss of potential revenue.

“Low-income families who get an affordable utility bill, a bill they can actually afford to pay, are much more likely to pay it,” Ballenger said, “and it results in more revenue actually coming in than would otherwise be obtained.”

Ballenger says the application process is easy and CLS will help, if need be.

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TAP replaces the Philadelphia Water Department’s previous assistance program, which was called WRAP (Water Revenue Assistance Program).

Ballenger says that program was difficult to apply to, was available only to owner occupants, and reached only about 7,500 people, a fraction of the number who actually need help.

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The Water Department budgeted $4 million for WRAP, which provided $200 toward monthly bills, spread out over a year, and a maximum of $300 to help with past due balances.

Under TAP, unpaid balances are suspended while families are in the program. It is open to anyone responsible for a water bill, including owners and tenants.

The Water Department has budgeted $15 million for TAP, but Ballenger doesn’t believe it will cost that much, at least not initially. The money was included in the most recent water rate increase, last July.

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Applications for TAP will be available through the Water Department website beginning July 1.