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City to use ARP money to offer water bill debt relief to qualified households

A view inside the Colonel Ward Pumping Station in Buffalo
Michael Mroziak, WBFO
A view inside the Colonel Ward Pumping Station in Buffalo

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown announced Friday that $13 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan allocation will be used to help thousands of homes erase water and sewer bill debts.

An estimated 30,000 households have fallen in arrears with their water and sewer bills. Brown, appearing at the Colonel Ward Pumping Station, announced many will see debt relief through the continuation and expansion of the city’s Water and Sewer Bill Amnesty Program.

"We will completely wipe out their indebtedness for water and sewer bills. So they start with a fresh slate,” Brown said. “We will help all of those customers go into our affordability program.”

City officials say qualified households include low-income families and customers who fell behind on bills due to a COVID illness. The expanded program will provide debt forgiveness to eligible households where bills are either two quarters past due or $300 in arrears. City officials say the debt forgiveness also covers any interest or fees associated with late bills.

"We are going to be working on automatic enrollment. So we'll be reaching out to all of our folks. But right now, if they can call in, 847-1065, they can be enrolled,” said Oluwole McFoy, chairman of the Buffalo Water Board. “That is how our amnesty program has been set up. And now we are expanding that.”

In all, the City of Buffalo is receiving $361 million from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan.

Similar programs have been rolled out in Oakland and Louisville. Brown says they’ve resulted in a 96-percent success rate of qualified customers now keeping up on their bill payments.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.