New WV American Water program offers reduced rates to some custo - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

New WV American Water program offers reduced rates to some customers

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Some low-income customers of West Virginia American Water may qualify for special rates, the company recently announced.

According to a news release, qualifying households could receive a 20 percent discount on their monthly water rates. The program will be offered year-round and recently was approved by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia.

"We pursued this program with the support of the state of West Virginia as a way to lessen the impact of rate increases for customers struggling to make ends meet," said Jeff McIntyre, president of WVAW. "While we have made sincere efforts to make water service even more affordable for those customers in the greatest need, water service costs continue to increase due to much-needed capital investment to ensure the reliability of water service and to meet more stringent regulations."

To qualify for the program, residents must be current WVAW customers and currently receive benefits from at least one of the following programs: Supplemental Security Income, WV WORKS, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and be 60 years of age or older.

McIntyre said once the program is implemented, some customers could receive water service for less than a penny per gallon. The average residential household bill, about 3,315 gallons, would be discounted from $39.11 per month to $31.29 and the minimum bill, or about 1,500 gallons, could decrease from $21.67 to $17.34 a month.

The Department of Health and Human Resources will determine eligibility for the program, and those who qualify will receive an application to sign up for the program within the next two weeks. The applications are specialized specifically for the water discount program and are the only way for customers to enroll in the program. Customers who believe they qualify but do not receive an application by mid-May should contact their local DHHR offices, according to the news release.

In the past, West Virginia American Water has offered utility assistance through the Dollar Energy Fund, which provided one-time grants to a few hundred eligible customers each year. The new program will allow thousands of consumers to receive assistance each month, year-round. The PSC's Consumer Advocate Division estimates approximately 5 to 10 percent of the company's residual customers will be eligible for the 20 percent discount.

"This program is a way to recognize that saving even a few dollars a month is meaningful to many of our customers in greatest need, while still recognizing that water rates must reflect the true cost of providing service in a geographically challenging and often sparsely populated area," McIntyre said.

The program is underwritten by the state through a credit against the company's business and occupation tax. Customers paying full water rates are not subsidizing other customers through this program. Grants made through Dollar Energy are made possible by the company's shareholders, not other customers.