Detroit officials are trying to boost aid programs for people who struggle to pay their water bills--before the city starts shutting off residential customers again.
The United Way and the philanthropic arms of Ford and General Motors announced a combined $200,000 in donations to the Detroit Water Fund Monday.
That fund is designed to help eligible Detroiters pay up to 25% of their delinquent water bill.
To qualify for assistance, customers with delinquent bills must be enrolled in Mayor Mike Duggan’s 10/30/50 payment plan, which gives them 24 months to pay what they owe after making a 10% down payment.
Detroit ramped up an aggressive water shutoff effort earlier this year as it tried to collect up to $100 million in overdue payments. Emergency manager Kevyn Orr is trying to spin the department off to another public or private entity as part of the city’s bankruptcy case.
But after an international outcry, and at the behest of Detroit bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes, the department put a short-term moratorium on most residential water shutoffs last month.
Duggan extended that moratorium when Orr later handed control of the water department over to the mayor’s office.
But Duggan warned that “pause” will expire next week, and urged anyone who needs help to get on a payment plan immediately.
“It doesn’t do any good to have people protesting, saying we should give free water,” Duggan said. “There’s no source of free water. The way the water system works, every city’s responsible for its own water. Every time somebody in Detroit doesn’t pay their bill, it’s other Detroiters that bear that cost.”
Duggan has pledged an aggressive community outreach effort in the coming week. The city is holding a final water affordability fair where customers can sign up for payment plans at Cobo Hall this Saturday.
In the meantime, Duggan said he’s hopeful this donation will spur other local corporations and non-profits to step up and do the same—a thought echoed by the Ford Motor Company Fund’s Jim Vella.
“The other thing really is to get folks from where they are today, from not being able to sustain themselves, to get them to a place where they can,” Vella said. “That’s the ultimate goal for all of us.”