Written by 11:20 pm People stories, Public policy

Do These Pants Make my Arrears Look Big?

DWSD shut off notice

Recipient Story: A Utility’s Offer of Help Overpromises, Under-delivers

Leslie, a Detroit area grandmother whose water service you just saved with your donations, was sure she was on a path out of water debt.

She was enrolled in Detroit’s Water Residential Assistance Program. She dutifully paid what they said to in order to stay in the program’s good graces. On time! Every time! After two years, she “graduated” from the program (they kicked her out because two years is the maximum). 

After twenty-four months of exemplary bill paying, Leslie — and most reasonable human beings reading this — might assume she would have a clean slate. She could move forward, relieved from the stress of a looming shut-off, continuing to use the small amount of water that she did (senior citizen, living alone). Nah.  

Her good behavior had earned her a $25/month ‘credit’ toward her past-due balance. Which is not nothing. But while she was paying what she was told to pay on her arrears, she was still accumulating water debt each month. New, unaffordable debt, that is.

“After I was put off the program, I still had a huge bill,” Leslie said. “I’m on a fixed income. I couldn’t afford it. I went in to make arrangements. But the best they could offer me was for me to pay $180 month.” Note that in order to be on the WRAP program in the first place, Leslie had to have been making less than $18,735/year. Best case math pegs that “offer” at 11% of her monthly income. An affordable water bill is around 3% of monthly income.

Detroit issued her a shut-off notice when she owed $90 in arrears. “I felt tricked because all the time I thought I wasn’t incurring additional water bills. And I was. When you put off everything for two years that you thought was being paid, you feel disappointed. And angry that they don’t make that clear.”

Can you tell, however, that Leslie is not someone who takes a setback lying down? That Detroit grandma Googled how to get help with her water bill. Which led her to The Human Utility. Thanks to you donors, we paid the arrears balance necessary for her to get on a real payment plan — one that she can actually keep.

And she has advice for others in a similar situation. “Make sure you know you are still incurring huge bills. Read the fine print. Make sure folks are clear. I would not recommend WRAP unless it changes.” 

She would, however, enthusiastically recommend The Human Utility. “I was just so grateful to receive assistance. And I’d like to thank everybody who helped me.”

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Tags: , , Last modified: December 18, 2019