CHICAGO – Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot today joined City Comptroller Reshma Soni and Harold Rice, CEO of the Cook County Community and Economic Development Association (CEDA) to launch the Chicago Utility Billing Relief (UBR) Program. The initiative builds on Mayor Lightfoot’s commitment to dismantle the city’s historically regressive structure of fines and fees and will help Chicago’s most vulnerable residents comply with city utility bill payments. The program is designed to reduce the cost of the water and sewer portions of the City’s utility bills, making them more affordable and preventing residents from having to make difficult choices between paying for utilities and paying them. other essential goods and services. Debt relief will be provided to residents who demonstrate an ability to handle low rate bills for one year.
“The Chicago Utility Billing Relief Program is our final step in providing long-awaited financial support to residents who are struggling with their bills, forcing them to choose between paying for their water and other essentials, and in many cases succumbing. debilitating debt, ”said Mayor Lightfoot. “We can no longer afford to hold back their potential or ours. Through this program, Chicago families and communities will now have a path forward to meeting payments, as well as the possibility of full debt forgiveness, helping us build a more equitable, inclusive and better Chicago. optimistic for generations to come. “
The program works in partnership with the Cook County CEDA, which manages the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It draws on the expertise and experience of CEDA leaders and uses its extensive network of partner organizations to conduct outreach activities and register owners. Owners of single-family homes and two-apartment units in Chicago must have LIHEAP-eligible income to be eligible for the Utility Billing Assistance Program. In addition, the participant must be the owner, reside at the address and have their name on the invoice as a customer. It is important to note that the Utility Billing Relief Program will not require residency documents in accordance with our Welcoming Cities Ordinance. It offers low-income residents of the city of Chicago:
- A reduced rate on the water, sewer and sewer tax;
- No late payment penalty or debt collection activity;
- Debt forgiveness after successfully completing one year with no past due balance.
“CEDA draws on more than 50 years of experience in operations, education and engagement in its partnership with the City and through its work to ensure the continued delivery of high quality services to residents.” , said Harold Rice, CEO of CEDA. “We are committed to working with the City to reduce poverty, revitalize low-income communities and empower residents more than ever before, especially during the unprecedented time we are currently facing. “
The amount of debt related to water utility billing has increased nearly 300% since 2011 with more than $ 330 million in total debt today. This trend parallels the recent increase in water prices, which rose 166% over the same period to account for deferred investments in infrastructure over 80 years old on average. With much of the debt concentrated in many communities in the south and west, Utility Billing Relief is focused on helping these communities.
In late April, the city launched a soft launch of the Chicago UBR program, which focused specifically on residents already enrolled in the LIHEAP program. In the past two months, the City has enrolled 3,315 residents in the UBR program after sending communications to nearly 8,000 homeowners. Chicagoans already enrolled in the program are eligible for $ 2.9 million in debt relief if they remain in compliance with payments for the following calendar year. To carry out this smooth launch, the City worked with CEDA to create a call center to serve residents, send targeted emails to residents, and identify partner host organizations to help residents with questions. ‘enroll in the program.
“The UBR program is another example of our search for solutions to reform regressive policies that have disproportionately impacted our most vulnerable residents,” said Reshma Soni, City of Chicago Comptroller. “We have made progress in relieving the debt burden resulting from antiquated practices that have led to income inequality, and the UBR program builds on those efforts, especially now when so many Chicagoans are crushed by the economic tensions of the COVID-19 crisis. . “
With this program in place, the City will be able to focus its collection efforts on those who can most afford it, and homeowners will continue to be held accountable for paying water bills. In line with other fine and fee initiatives, for those who do not qualify for the reduced rate, residents can choose from multiple plans from a 6, 12, 18, 24, 36 month plan, accessible in line. Whenever a resident stays up to date on payments, they avoid being subjected to debt collection efforts.
The launch of UBR follows Mayor Lightfoot’s efforts to dismantle the city’s regressive fine and fee system and nefarious enforcement practices that have historically had a disproportionate impact on financially troubled communities. Last year, Chicago City Council approved a first fine and fee reform package that included input from dozens of advocacy groups and city departments, all of which were members of the Fines, Fees Collaboration and Access, formed in December 2018 and headed by City Clerk Anna. Mr. Valence.
The City has already brought critical relief to many residents through new practices, including: eliminating municipal sticker debt for those who can least afford it; reduction of excessive late fees on the City Sticker program; the elimination of license suspensions for non-driving offenses; launch of a series of new payment plans that expand debt repayment options; and new avenues to compliance to help eligible residents avoid a number of the devastating consequences of onerous municipal debt – including water cuts, towing and flooding, and more.
Those who may need help settling their debts are encouraged to visit Chicago.gov/newstartchicago for more information on payment plans, hardship qualifications, and other information related to fines and fees. Residents can sign up for flexible utility bill payment plans online at Chicago.gov/finance and those looking for more information about UBR or to register can visit Chicago.gov/ubr.