Baltimore, MD — Today, advocates and councilmembers showed up in droves to an informational Rules and Legislative Oversight Committee hearing on the implementation of the “Water4All” Affordability Program and the Water Accountability & Equity Act. Today’s hearing marks roughly two months since the landmark “Water4All” affordability program was launched, but advocates and councilmembers warn that the program’s implementation is already flawed with deadlines missed and programmatic concerns.
In accordance with the Water Accountability & Equity Act modifications bill passed in 2020 to extend the implementation of the legislation, the Act should have been fully implemented by July 1st, 2021. The Department of Public Works launched the first half of the legislation, the Water4All affordability program, earlier this year and have yet to make notable progress on the second half of the legislation by establishing the Water Customer Advocate’s office for a more transparent billing dispute resolution process.
Even the launch of the Water4All program has raised serious concerns, as DPW currently plans for the affordability credit for tenants in multifamily units to count as taxable income, despite available ARPA funds which have been designated non taxable. The Baltimore Right to Water Coalition has repeatedly raised these concerns and others with the Scott Administration and the Department of Public Works and have not been able to get a clear response.
At the hearing, advocates from the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition and councilmembers demanded answers to critical questions from representatives from the Department of Public Works, the Department of Finance, and the Office of the Baltimore City Administrator. Rianna Eckel, Baltimore Water Organizer with Food & Water Watch said:
“You don’t get brownie points for passing landmark water equity legislation if you never implement it. Baltimoreans are struggling with water access and water affordability right now — any delay in implementation of Water4All and the Water Accountability & Equity Act will spell disaster for the very people it’s designed to help. Mayor Scott must get serious about Baltimore’s water equity crisis and take concrete steps to implement this legislation faithfully.”
“It is incredibly disappointing to see DPW violating the law by denying renters access to their water bills two and a half years after the Water Accountability & Equity Act passed,” said Molly Amster, Maryland Policy Director & Baltimore Director for Jews United for Justice. “Renters make up more than 50% of Baltimore residents and shouldn’t be treated like second class citizens.”
“It’s frustrating that so few customers learned about possible back-dated credits after the significant delays launching the credit. Not only that, but because the customer advocate position has yet to be filled, customers often still need lawyers to resolve their water woes,” said Amy Hennen, Director of Advocacy and Financial Stabilization at the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. “These delays only hurt the citizens of Baltimore.”
Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]