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Great Lakes Water Authority introduces income-based assistance plan

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Melissa Benmark
Michigan Radio

The Great Lakes Water Authority is updating its Water Residential Assistance Plan for customers who struggle to pay their bills.

The biggest change is that the program is now income-based. Households at or below double the federal poverty level can get credits toward their monthly bills, as well as up to $1200 for any back debts they may owe. When the credits are applied, the bill will be no more than 3% of their monthly income.

Madison Merzlyakov, the water authority's affordability and assistance manager, said a previous version of the assistance program, known as WRAP, just wasn’t enough help for some households.

“For example, a household that was previously just receiving $25 a month or $300 a year in bill credit now is eligible to receive $700 a year in bill credit,” Merzlyakov said.

“We really needed to create a plan that was more focused on providing unique assistance to each household. And so that's how we came up with the income-based plan.”

The WRAP program is also now available in almost all communities the water authority serves in southeast Michigan. The exception is Detroit, which has its own income-based assistance plan, known as the Lifeline Plan. That’s partially funded by the Great Lakes Water Authority and WRAP.

WRAP is also partnering with more social service agencies in Metro Detroit to provide more active case management for people in the program, which also helps customers with water conservation measures and plumbing issues.

The shift to income-based water affordability programs is a big one, and something activists had been demanding for years. Until recently, utility officials said it would be both too complex and violate state law to base bills on household income, but there’s been a notable shift away from that stance since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Merzlyakov said if people are starting to fall behind on water bills, they should reach out as soon as possible. “They don't need to wait for it to be an emergency situation,” she said. “We encourage folks to proactively reach out and get assistance with their bills so they don't fall behind.”

More information on the WRAP program, including how to apply and eligibility criteria, can be found here.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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