Mayor Horrigan Outlines Ongoing Community-Wide Campaign To Provide Over $1 Million In Financial Help
Far Fewer Akron Residents Impacted By Disconnection
Akron, Ohio, December 14, 2020—Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan is announcing that coordinated community efforts by his administration and other partners resulted in lower turnoff rates and significant financial relief to Akron households in 2020.
“Thanks to the availability of private and public funds, and the proactive efforts of caring and dedicated staff, thousands of households have been assisted with over one million dollars in direct financial assistance this year alone,” Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan announced Monday. “Additionally, Akron’s water turnoffs have decreased by 30% and delinquent notices have decreased by 50% in 2020. We understand that now, more than ever, access to clean water is important. So I am pleased to say that we are not seeing any kind of surge in disconnections–in fact, quite the opposite—our efforts are working so that far fewer residents are impacted than pre-pandemic levels.”
The City administration and community partners have taken real-world steps to help residents struggling to pay their bills through direct assistance, financial empowerment tools, extended payment plans, and coordinated outreach. These services will have long-term positive impacts. And robust help continues to be available to those who need it. A few of the steps the City of Akron administration has taken in 2020 to successfully assist ratepayers:
Provided over $401,100in direct water/sewer bill relief to more than2,300 Akron households through the Akron Cares program. The program was totally revamped earlier this year to address all COVID-related hardships and make more relief available to a greater number of residents during the pandemic, thanks in large part to a sizeable private donation secured by Mayor Horrigan. Additional funds are available and being provided to customers daily.
Worked with the Summit County Cares program to apply more than $694,600 in additional relief to over 1,800 Akron water/sewer customers.
Coordinated charitable donations from community partners to help more than 230 additional households maintain water service uninterrupted.
Referred 873 customers to free financial empowerment services and additional assistance through the Akron Financial Empowerment Center, through a new program modeled off the Lift-Up program piloted by the National League of Cities. Mayor Horrigan’s administration proactively implemented these innovative strategies after researching and interviewing multiple peer cities that have successfully deployed similar initiatives. The program includes:
Identifying customers struggling to stay current on utility bills using a matrix of utility data and doing outreach to enroll them in the program
Restructuring utility debt and allowing customers to enter into much longer-term and more lenient repayment arrangements
One-on-one financial counseling, including a budget review and customized action plan to address financial needs, as well as referrals to appropriate emergency assistance, public benefits, and banking services
Providing additional financial incentives and waiving fees and penalties for customers who participate
Supporting ongoing relationships with participants to assess and motivate their progress toward long-term financial health
Additionally, entering 2021, the City is going even further to assist customers by:
Pausing all water turnoffs through the Christmas holiday and New Year’s
Increasing the amount available to each household through Akron Cares to $500, and allowing residents to receive additional rounds of assistance
Removing the most frequent barriers to eligibility, including reducing paperwork requirements
Conducting a second coordinated outreach campaign to inform eligible customers of available relief programs and services through various communication mediums
While some have suggested a moratorium on water disconnections, data shows that this approach ultimately results in increased delinquency rates and higher household utility debt, which can exacerbate problems down the road.
“A water shutoff moratorium will likely have the opposite effect of what’s intended, by enabling customers to get even further behind on their bills with no permanent relief,” Shelley Goodrich, Deputy Finance Director said. “During a moratorium, we find that even some customers who can afford to pay will stop paying their bill, leading to cascading problems. An indefinite moratorium could affect the City’s bond rating and our ability to pay not only for the federally-mandated CSO project but our financing for other essential upgrades to our system. A moratorium on utility shutoffs will inevitably disrupt water and sewer rates moving forward, to the detriment of all customers, including the most at-risk Akronites. Under a moratorium, paying customers could be unfairly burdened to pay more to make up for the unpaid balances of others. However, like many other cities, Akron is pivoting from a moratorium approach to an assistance-based approach, allowing residents to maintain their service if they notify the utility of their challenges to pay and work with us to accept available funds.”
“We have worked tirelessly to help our residents through this challenging time while continuing to provide clean water to more than 80,000 households 24/7/365,” Mayor Dan Horrigan said. “We continually refine our programs to find ways to help more residents during this pandemic, but what I cannot support is any policy that would put Akron households further behind. A moratorium is a band-aid that can allow balances to grow without any long-term solution. What we are deploying instead is a surgical approach—one that helps address the underlying problem, targets significant assistance to those who need it most, won’t burden other ratepayers, and supports the City’s overall financial health. And we remain open to other innovative strategies that will offer Akron families real and lasting help.”
Less than 70 total accounts–-only .08% of Akron customers—are currently impacted by water disconnection due to non-payment. It is common for water service to be restored within hours of disconnection, when payment is provided. Furthermore, no water disconnections will take place over the holidays. The City has long recognized this as an important issue and dedicated significant time and resources to helping residents manage their utility costs. The City and our community partners will continue to work to ensure that residents in need are proactively connected with all available resources for assistance now and in the future.
For more information please visit www.akronohio.gov/akroncares or call the Mayor’s Action Center at 3-1-1 (330-375-2311). Private donations to Akron Cares continue to be accepted.