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Starting Tuesday, Detroit's Water and Sewerage Department has increased the assistance available to customers who are behind on their water bills, officials said.

Under the Detroit Water Fund program launched last year, customers with delinquent accounts of $300 to $1,000 could get up to 25 percent of the outstanding balance covered for 12 months. In January, the limit was raised to $2,000.

Officials said Tuesday the fund will now cover up to 50 percent of outstanding balances for 12 months and pay 25 percent of future bills for up to a year. The changes are effective immediately.

"Our goal at (the water department) is to make sure that our customers can keep their water on and, if they can't, to provide assistance to those that need it," Sue McCormick, the DWSD's director, said Tuesday in a statement. "While our water shut-offs will resume, we expect that many of those accounts will be attached to abandoned/vacant properties.

"We will alert all customers who are delinquent and they will have enough time to either pay their bill or enter into a payment arrangement."

In addition, customers previously helped by the fund who defaulted out of the program may reapply immediately without penalty.

Customers who don't pay their bills or enter in a payment plan will have their water service shut off, officials said. Residential water shut-offs are expected to resume May 1.

Water department crews were to start Monday providing 10-day shut-off notices to account holders with delinquent bills and urge them to visit one of its service centers and get into a payment plan, officials also said.

Officials estimate 29,181 water department customers are on payment plans. That compares with 11,749 last year, according to the department.

In July, the Great Lakes Regional Water Authority will assume control of the water and sewer system for the Detroit suburbs in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties under a 40-year, $50 million annual lease agreement, serving about 3 million customers.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department will continue to provide maintenance and service to customers in the city.

Officials said under the agreement, low-income water customers across the region will have access to $6 million in payment assistance, $4.5 million of which will be set aside from the regional authority's revenues.

cramirez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2058

Detroit Water Fund

To qualify for help from the Detroit Water Fund, customers must:

Have an active Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Payment Plan Agreement.

Have an outstanding balance of $300-$2,000

Maintain Average Water Usage for their household size.

Be enrolled in DTE's Low Income Self-Sufficiency Plan (LSP) or have income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

Funding is available on a first-come first-served basis.

To confirm eligibility, call (313) 267-8000.

To donate to the fund or apply online for help log on to www.DetroitWaterFund.org.

Source: Detroit Water and Sewerage Department

Help for others

For those who don't meet Detroit Water Fund's eligibility requirements, the water department offers a 10/30/50 payment plan in which the past-due amount is spread out over a two-year period.

There are also other places customers can get help with their bills, including:

Wayne Metro Community Action Agency offers assistance to customers who are behind more than $2,000. Call (313) 388-9799 to help lower the balance and qualify for the Detroit Water Fund.

The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW) helps with water bills as well. For information, call (800) 866-THAW.

The Michigan Department of Human Services can also provide help. Visit the department's local district office.

The Water Access Volunteer Effort can help with outstanding balances by paying up to $500. For information, call (313) 267-8000.

Source: Detroit Water and Sewerage Department

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