Dollars & Sense

KC will boost help for people struggling to pay water bills

Updated: 2013-04-22T05:24:50Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

As Kansas City water rates go up by double digits each year, the City Council is taking steps to try to ease the burden for some struggling low-income families.

The council voted last week to increase the annual water assistance fund from $240,000 to $300,000 beginning May 1. That will provide assistance to about 1,050 families over the next 12 months, up from 800 in the past year.

“We anticipate a greater need,” said Sean Hennessy, chief financial officer for Kansas City Water Services.

The average monthly residential water and sewer bill is expected to rise 11.5 percent in the coming year as the city fixes aging water mains and complies with federal requirements to overhaul its sewer system. Average monthly bills are expected to increase from $65 two years ago to $82.50 in the coming year, and those increases are putting a hardship on many families, Hennessy acknowledged.

The program is designed for Kansas City residents only, and for people who have a good record of paying their Water Services bills but have lost a job or have struggled in other ways to pay a few months worth of bills.

“They have to have a history of paying their water bills,” Hennessy said. “This is done to help people who regularly meet their obligations.”

Residents who meet income guidelines, making less than $43,000 for a family of four, can get one-time assistance during the year. They can get information about the program by calling the city’s 2-1-1 social services hotline, or by calling 816-474-5112.

Water Services has offered this type of assistance since 2010, and there is always more need than funds available. “Every penny gets spent,” Hennessy said.

The Mid America Assistance Coalition oversees the program. In 2011, the coalition counted 6,033 calls requesting assistance with water bills, according to coalition executive director John Rich. Last year, that number increased to 6,579. The average payment to those who qualified was about $275.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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