Baltimore residents’ water bills are delayed by several weeks because of complications tied to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said water billing will resume May 8, and that residents should expect higher than normal bills that include charges for part of March and all of April.
He said that new procedures — put in place to allow Department of Public Works staffers to telework and adhere to distancing guidelines — held up the process.
“To protect staff from COVID-19, the Department of Public Works put in place a new procedure to enable water billing and customer service staff to telework,” the Democrat said. “This process took a few weeks to put in place.”
This is the second time within a year that the city’s water customers have faced a billing disruption.
A ransomware attack crippled the city’s computer network last summer. That halted water billing for three months. By the time the system was back up, many households received bills for about $300 to $400.
Getting hit with such a large charge was difficult for many low-income households.
Young’s administration has pledged to waive late fees as residents deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus that has left thousands unemployed. He reiterated a pledge not to shut off water service if someone doesn’t pay their bill.
Young also announced Wednesday a water bill discount program that will begin in May for residents who have lost their jobs during the public health crisis.
Starting May 8, eligible residents will receive a 43% discount on charges for water and sewer usage and a waiver for Bay Restoration and Storm Water Remediation fees.
The discount is good for one year. Similar discount programs for customers with low incomes typically knock about $40 off a residential bill.
Advocates for affordable water thanked the mayor for introducing the program, but said he must go further to protect residents.
The city’s existing water assistance program — on which the Emergency COVID-19 Discount is based — requires tenants to have landlords add them to the water account in order to receive help. That’s been a barrier for many residents who rent their homes, advocates say.
“Additional support is crucial, as many residents who have lost their jobs as a result of this pandemic already received unaffordable water bills,” Rianna Eckel, of Food & Water Action, said in a statement.
She urged the administration to take steps to ensure the city’s large population of renters are able to enroll easily in the expanded relief program.