In just weeks, more than 3,000 households have already applied to receive cost savings on their water, wastewater and power bills paid to The City under a temporary program to provide relief to those financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The response to this program has been outstanding,” said Harlan Kelly, general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
The agency has received about 3,400 applications since the discount program launched on May 12, Will Reisman, a SFPUC spokesperson, told the San Francisco Examiner.
“We are still reviewing how many of these applications will actually be enrolled, as some may be ineligible,” Reisman said. “We anticipate about $34 in monthly household savings for water/wastewater customers, and $13 for power customers.”
Erin Franks, a SFPUC rates analyst, told the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Tuesday that the temporary six-month program is one of the agency’s responses to the “really devastating financial impact that COVID-19 has had on our customers and our community.”
She said that it provides “at least some measure of support for customers as they try to adjust to the new normal we are all dealing with” as they suddenly may have found themselves struggling to cover basic expenses like utility bills.
“It is open to residential customers for their primary residence only,” Franks said. “It requires that they certify that they experienced income loss related to COVID-19 or the shelter-in-place order.”
About 100,000 people have applied for unemployment in San Francisco.
The discounts are 15 percent on water, 35 percent on sewer and 30 percent on Hetch Hetchy Power bills for six months, between March 4 and Sept. 4.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve of the Temporary Emergency Customer Assistance Program for COVID -19 Relief program.
“Critically, the emergency program will have a streamlined application process, allowing customers to submit online applications in which they self-certify that they meet the eligibility requirements,” according to a staff memo. “This will not only provide an accessible option for customers during a stressful time, but will also reduce the administrative burden of the SFPUC’s customer service team to process applications in a timely manner.”
Applicants must have had a household income below 200 percent of the Area Median Income before the COVID-19 impact to qualify. For a one-person household, that’s $179,300 and for a four-person household, $256,200.
They must certify on their application that they experienced a loss of income related to COVID-19 and have a difficulty paying their water, power and sewer bills, such as due to layoffs, reduced hours, or inability to work due to legal restrictions or illness.
Kelly suggested the agency may expand cost-saving measures to other customers.
“We are already exploring plans for similar temporary saving programs for businesses and nonprofit customers,” Kelly said.