Buffalo, NY—Mayor Byron W. Brown announced the expansion and continuation of the City’s Water and Sewer Amnesty program which will be supported with a $13 million investment from Buffalo’s American Rescue Plan direct allocation. The expanded program will provide residents whose water or sewer bills are either two quarters past due or $300 in arrears with debt forgiveness for the principle amount due, as well as any interest or fees associated with the past due bill. Eligible residents will then be enrolled in Buffalo Water’s affordability program which will help lower their payments and help keep them on a path of long-term financial stability.
Mayor Brown said, “When I announced the City’s Water and Sewer Amnesty program last year as part of our pandemic relief efforts and the Buffalo Reform Agenda, I acted to relieve the burden of late fees and interest payments too many residents were struggling to pay. With the City’s ARP funds, we can now achieve the full potential of our amnesty program by guaranteeing access to fresh, clean, and healthy water as a right residents can enjoy without the fear of a service shut-off due to their financial difficulties.”
The expanded Water and Sewer Amnesty program, which took effect on July 1st of this year, will provide low-income residents with debt relief, enroll them in an affordability program that can help lower their annual water and sewer bills, and use a consumer-centric approach that has been employed in other cities—like Louisville, Kentucky and Oakland, California—to keep them current. As part of this new consumer-centric approach, Buffalo Water has issued an RFP to identify a firm that will employ a new customer-oriented outreach approach. This new approach will also include a policy to end shut-offs related to non-payment for low-income residents. Beginning immediately, low-income residents will not have to worry about the loss of water or sewer service due to financial difficulty.
“We continue our work to develop and implement equitable solutions to address the needs of our community. Many low-income families suffer under the burdens of household expenses, and we are transforming the way that water affordability is addressed. Our water equity journey began years ago and this latest program is a reflection of the commitment to serve our community by delivering safe, clean water to our customers” said Oluwole (OJ) McFoy, P.E.
It is estimated that this program will assist as many as 30,000 Buffalo households. During the pandemic, Buffalo turned on water service for residents whose service had been terminated due to non-payments.
Council President Darius Pridgen said, "With approximately 30,000 households struggling with keeping current on their water or sewer bills it is critical that the City use this once in a lifetime stimulus funding to help alleviate people's utility debts, get back on their feet, and focus on their personal and community recovery. There is the added benefit that when we help people we are also helping the City's finances so this is a win-win situation for everyone involved. The Council will continue working with the Administration to ensure that Buffalo's ARP funding gets into the hands of residents who have been disproportionally harmed the most by the pandemic."
In addition to debt relief for residents, this investment will help stabilize Buffalo’s Water and Sewer structural budgets, which were operating with a significant decline in revenues caused by residents’ inability to pay. By eliminating their debts and providing a way to keep current over the long-term both authorities’ budgets will be in a stronger and more stable position in the future.
More information on how the City of Buffalo is investing its American Rescue Plan funding is available on the Buffalo Transformation Fund site which can be found on the City’s webpage: www.buffalony.gov. There, residents can take a survey to share their ideas on how Buffalo should invest its federal stimulus funding and learn more about the programs and initiatives which have already been announced.