A tale of two cities’ water bills: how one place was able to reduce mounting utility costs for low-income households and how Ohio may follow suit

If Kevina Chapolini-Renwrick couldn’t pay the $15,000 water bill, she’d lose her home. The South Philadelphia resident began to panic when she saw the city had tacked a notice on her door threatening her with legal action, back in the summer of 2021. Her husband had inherited the property from his parents in 2007, and with it, their unpaid water bill debt. Tears traced the retired social worker’s cheeks as she recalled the memories tied to the simple rowhouse with beige siding, snugly tucked between its neighbors on a peaceful side street in the Newbold neighborhood. Chapolini-Renwrick had lived in this neighborhood her entire life.

Sidebar: Why compare Cleveland and Philadelphia, and why does this matter?

Across the U.S., the cost of water and sewer has only gotten more expensive over the last several decades, with the average water bill increasing by 30% between 2012 and 2019, according to a utility bill index conducted by Bluefield Research. 

As of 2019, low-income households spent an average of almost 10% of their disposable income each month to pay for basic monthly water and sewer services, according to a study out of Texas A&M University. 

And in both Cleveland and Philadelphia, the pandemic and the cities’ high poverty rates mean there are thousands of people behind on their water bills. As of November 2021, almost 10% of all Cleveland Water customers – about 40,000 customers – were behind on their water and sewer bills by six months or more, a rate that’s far higher than non-pandemic years. More than 1 in 4 Cleveland Water customers were behind on at least one bill that month, and in Philadelphia, nearly a third of customers were at least one bill behind in March 2021. Despite a significant difference in population size, the city of Cleveland isn’t so different from Philadelphia. The water systems that serve both cities are municipality-owned and serve a wide geographic area, with the Cleveland Water Department servicing about 440,000 accounts and the Philadelphia Water Department servicing almost 500,000.

Ohioans struggle to get help with utility bills

Federal programs exist, but how easy are they to access? Rashidah Abdulhaqq worries her electricity and heat will be shut off. 

These are vital services during normal times, but especially during the winter, and especially when she has a portable oxygen tank she carts around to keep herself alive. Flanked by several windows wrapped in plastic to better insulate her drafty Cleveland home, Abdulhaqq said she’s been trying for almost three months to get an application in for several programs to help her with her utility bills. Struggling with bills? Check out this guide created to help by the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative and Black Girl Media.

Do you owe ODJFS because of a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance overpayment? You might be eligible for a waiver

State made $1.2 billion in accidental payments, which could be forgiven

This article is from Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join their free mailing list, as this helps provide more public service reporting. When Matthew Bishop started getting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance a year ago, it pulled him out of a tight spot. Bishop, who runs a small company called Gutenberg Author Services, lost all his customers when the economy imploded in March, and had moved out of his group house and in with his parents because he couldn’t make rent. PUA was a lifeline.

A Cold Covid Christmas in Cleveland

As moratoriums end Dec. 1, need grows for utility assistance; Guide to avoiding shutoffs

This article provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join our free mailing list as this helps us provide more public service reporting. CLEVELAND, Ohio – The needs of Greater Clevelanders have come in waves during the pandemic, much like the virus itself: first food, then rent, then internet so students could learn from home.  

Now, as moratoriums that staved off utility disconnections cascade to an end, some families face a long winter unsure how they will keep the lights, heat and water on. Moratoriums on shut-offs with Cleveland Public Power and the Cleveland Water Department, for example, ends tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec.

Home Visitation Program Reduces Infant Mortality in Medicaid Recipients

This article provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join our free mailing list as this helps us provide more public service reporting. Miracle M. wrapped her arms around herself and rocked back and forth as she retold the story of her premature daughter’s death. Her daughter was born at 22 weeks, weighed nearly four pounds, and died in 12 hours. 

“Even after she died, I held her for two more days. I could not let her go,” said Miracle.