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$1.7M reallocated to Metro area water bill aid program

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Metro Detroit's regional water authority has approved reallocating $1.7 million to a program that helps its low-income residential customers pay their water bills, Detroit city officials said Friday.

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The Great Lakes Water Authority's Board of Directors approved the Water Residential Assistance Program, or WRAP, funding for the cities of Detroit and Flint.

Detroit, which has already received nearly $6 million from the program and other funding sources between March 2016 and April 2017, will receive about $1.6 million, officials said.

The reallocation comes as Detroit resumed shutting off water service last week at locations with delinquent accounts. It was revealed this month that nearly 18,000 households were at risk for shutoff and about 400 Detroit water customers were disconnected as of Tuesday.

Residents who contact the water department prior to their scheduled shutoffs to make a payment or enter into an assistance plan will avoid being cut off.

City officials said the reallocation will enable 2,000 more Detroit residents struggling to pay their water bills to enroll in the program.

"This is in addition to the nearly 6,000 enrolled in WRAP now," Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, said Friday in a statement.

"A robust and comprehensive program with a 90 percent retention rate, WRAP has successfully reduced Detroit low-income residents’ water account balances and decreased their bill to the average residential bill of close to $50 for a two-person household.”

A GLWA wholesale customer, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department provides service to Detroit's businesses and residents.

Flint will get about $132,000 once it executes a proposed long-term contract with the authority. Flint officials said earlier this month the city intends to remain a GLWA customer instead of switching to another provider that will draw water from Lake Huron.

GLWA officials said the reallocated $1.7 million for Detroit and Flint is from uncommitted 2016 bill assistance funds from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

The program is managed by the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency and provides help with current and past-due water bills to qualifying customers at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty threshold.

Since its inception, 58 of the water authority's customer communities have signed up for the program. It has $4.5 million in funding that is earmarked to help nearly 5,000 households in Southeast Michigan, according to the authority.

​“The decision by the GLWA Board of Directors to reallocate uncommitted funding to Detroit and Flint reinforces the spirit of regional collaboration that was at the heart of the authority’s formation,” GLWA's CEO Sue McCormick said in a statement.

For information or to apply for the water bill assistance program, visit Detroit Water & Sewerage Department's financial assistance website or call the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency at (313) 386-9727.

cramirez@detroitnews.com