Mayor Ed Murray said that within four years he wants to double participation in an underused discount program that provides low-income households in Seattle and parts of King County with cheaper water and electricity.
In a Jan. 29 announcement, Murray revealed that an estimated 65,000 households are eligible for the program, but fewer than 14,000 households were enrolled in 2012, according to Public Health-Seattle & King County.
Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities have been making efforts to grow the Utility Discount Program, which is funded by ratepayers, but Murray’s announcement showed the program is failing more households than previously thought.
In 2013, the city unveiled a marketing plan to bring in 1,700 new households onto the program every year until 2018. At the time, the city estimated that there were about 33,000 people eligible for the program, half of the Public Health Department’s current estimate.
Thousands of households lose access to water and power every year due to unpaid bills. In 2012, Seattle City Light disconnected 7,044 people and Seattle Public Utilities disconnected 4,054 people due to unpaid bills. Those numbers are up significantly from 2009, when Seattle City Light disconnected 3,984 people and Seattle Public Utilities disconnected 3,209 people for nonpayment. (“A startling disconnect,” RC, Sept. 18, 2013.)
Private charities have picked up the slack. In 2012, West Seattle Help Line distributed $30,000 to help people pay utility bills and keep their water and power connections. According to the help line, about 75 percent of clients seeking utility help were unaware that the city offers a discount to low-income households.
Murray has asked the directors of Seattle City Light, Seattle Public Utilities and the Human Services Department to report back in one month with a plan to enroll more households.
The Utility Discount Program provides 50 to 60 percent discounts on utilities to households who earn less than 70 percent of the state median income. A family of four earning less than $58,860 a year would qualify.
Murray wants to enroll 14,000 more households — 3,500 a year — by 2018.