News Bite

Detroit officials hope feds will offset income-based water bills

City has only a year or so of outside funds for the pilot program

The Detroit Lifeline Plan, a temporary pilot program that limits the water bills of some low-income Detroiters, was announced by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan at a Tuesday press conference, as reported by the Detroit Free Press.

The city has a moratorium on water shut-offs, which ends Jan. 1, 2023.

The plan places a cap on water bills, based on three different eligibility levels.

• Those who are eligible for food assistance, who are about 40% or 100,000 of the city’s 250,000 water customers. Their bills will be capped at $18 a month.
• The second tier, defined as low income, has a monthly cap of $43.
• The third level, referred to as modest income, has a cap of $56 as long as the household doesn’t receive food assistance benefits.

“The total bill will be 1.8% of the average monthly household income for each tier,” Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown said at the press conference.

But to stay within the fixed rate, customers cannot use more than 4,500 gallons of water a month.

Funding for the plan, which comes from regional, state, and federal dollars, is only sufficient for a year or two, officials said.

“There needs to be permanent funding. It cannot come from rates. We can’t pass on that kind of cost to ratepayers that are struggling to pay bills. It has to come from either the state or federal government and we're cautiously optimistic,” Brown said.

Enrollment opened up July 1, through Wayne-Metro, a nonprofit agency serving low-income residents in Wayne County. New rates take effect Aug. 1.

Today’s pilot program often becomes tomorrow’s new government program. That’s certainly the plan in Detroit, where 10 million state residents and hundreds of millions of Americans may soon subsidize the water bills of low-income Detroiters.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.