Sojourner’s Truth Staff
The City of Toledo introduced a debt forgiveness program last week that will help low-income, senior and disabled Toledo residents pay off past due water bill balances.
“The City of Toledo’s Debt Forgiveness Program will help residents catch up on past due water bills,” said Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz in his opening remarks at the press conference announcement. “We have been a leader in the state in developing such programs, this is another example of a program that can make a difference in the lives of people who struggle.”
In order to qualify for the program, applicants must live in Toledo, have past due balances of $200 or more, have an income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or 300 percent if disabled and then stay current on all new charges while enrolled in the program.
A citizens’ working group was established a year and a half ago to develop programs related to debt forgiveness and lead pipe issues, said Councilman Nick Komives, chairman of the City Council Water Quality & Sustainability Committee. The Toledo Community Water Council, Komives noted, is a community-led organization that has helped devise a program that “is a way of creating a revenue stream for the Water Department” and is continuing to develop programs related to water accessibility and affordability.
Vanessa Lynn, a member of the Water Council and a representative from the Junction Coalition, said that it is “an uphill battle to make water affordable … we are asking and pleading the community to work with us and to take advantage of the program – this is for you, the community.”
The community working group started meeting in January 2020, said Ed Moore, Toledo Public Utilities director. “We had to grow together,” he noted of those early efforts. Now the group has helped create a program that will address water charges, storm water charges and sewer charges incurred prior to October 1, 2021 (any outstanding balances after October 1 will be eligible for an installment payment plan, but not for debt forgiveness.)
The Debt Forgiveness program is not just an effort to help those behind in their bills, said Kapszukiewicz, it is also a way “to help with collection efforts … programs like this pay for themselves by bringing citizens back into the system – this is good for citizens who are struggling and it’s good for the system because it creates an incentive for citizens to come back in.”
Beginning October 1, applicants will be able to pre-screen for eligibility by calling the hotline or creating an account on the online portal, then answer the following questions: are you the homeowner or tenant; how many people live in your household; are you permanently disabled; what is your annual household income; are you 65 years or older?
The city will be hosting a series of community meetings to meet with residents about debt forgiveness and help them get enrolled – starting Monday, October 4 through Tuesday, October 19.
For more information or to apply, call 419-757-8377 or go online to Toledo.oh.gov/debt-forgiveness.