With winter approaching and a worsening economy, the City of Seattle wants to improve awareness about a program that reduces utility bills for senior citizens, the disabled and low-income families.
"Our goal is that everyone that is eligible in our service area knows about the discount program and has the opportunity to apply for it," said David Broom, supervisor of the utility assistance programs in the Mayor's Office for Senior Citizens.
The city's Utility Discount Program is designed to help families by having them save as much as 50 percent on their utility bills. The discount is applied to one's electricity, water, sewer and garbage bills. The city's idea behind the program is that with fuel, food and housing costs spiking, people on fixed incomes need help covering their bills.
"People who qualify can save between $800 and $900 per year on their costs," said Broom.
Currently, the exact discount a person or family receives is based on the size of their family and whether they are quality because they are a lower-income citizen, a senior citizen or disabled adult.
For low-income families, a household of four must make under $3,533 to qualify, while a single-person household can make no more than $1,733.
"The income limit goes up with the size of the household," said Broom.
Families with seniors or disabled adults have higher income limit guidelines than those without. For example, a family of 4 with seniors or disabled adults must make no more than $4,248.
The difference in income requirements is because of the way the city determines them. Currently, low-income families are required to make below 200 percent of the federal poverty level while senior citizens and the disabled must make under 70 percent of the state median income.
"The mayor has requested parity [income limits]," said Broom. "It should take place in January 2009 if approved by the City Council."
By having income requirements set to the 70 percent of the state median income, regardless of age or disability, the city believes the Utility Discount Program would be available to a larger number of customers.
Another major eligibility requirement is that the person or family cannot already be receiving subsidized or public housing.
"It's really an unfortunate situation," said Broom. "It has to do with the fact that people in Section 8 or public housing receive a credit already to pay for their utilities with."
The Utility Discount Program was created in 1970s to initially provide assistance to senior citizens and the disabled. However, a few years after its inception, the city council expanded the program to include lower income families as well.
In 2007, the program served over 15,000 Seattle utility customers. Despite reaching a number of its customers, the city hopes to expand knowledge of the program and to have 25 percent of those customers eligible for the discount to receive it.
"We've actually seen the number of people using the program falling," said Broom. "A lot of people are not aware of the discount program."
Broom said that the city is still determining exactly why the number of people using the discount program is falling. One of the main reasons for the decline in people using the program is that they are moving to outlying areas.
"With the increasing cost of living, its forcing lower income families to moving outside of service area," said Broom. "They tend to move to other areas such as Tukwila."
The city of Seattle has also created the PeoplePoint program as part of an outreach effort to the community and to those in need.
Currently, it has city staff working at Neighborhood Service Centers in Ballard, Delridge, the Central District and Lake City. The program provides people with information about the utility discount rate, basic health insurance, food and childcare assistance.
"One member of my staff recently helped a Seattle City Light and Public Utilities customer complete applications for the discount program and the Basic Food Program, and then she scheduled a follow-up meeting to help the client apply for a reduction in property taxes," said Broom.
Broom said that programs similar to the Utility Discount Program are available for residents in Snohomish County, Piece County and other utilities such as Puget Sound Energy. There are also emergency services to prevent those from going without utilities in times of dire need.
For more information on the Utility Discount program, its eligibility requirements and how to apply visit http://www.seattle.gov/humanservices/seniorsdisabled/mosc/utilfiftypercent.htm or call 206-684-0268.
Central Neighborhood Service Center
2301 S Jackson, 98144
Mondays 2–5 p.m.
Lake City Neighborhood Service Center
12525 28th Ave NE, 2nd Floor, 98125
Tuesdays 2–5 p.m.
Ballard Neighborhood Service Center
5604 22nd Ave NW, 98107
Fridays 1–4 p.m.
Delridge Neighborhood Service Center
5405 Delridge Way SW, 98106
Fridays 1–4 p.m.