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Tough Times Put Pennsylvanians at Risk of Going Thirsty

January 20, 2009

Philadelphia, PA - These tough economic times have cost thousands of Philadelphians their water service because they can't afford ever-increasing utility bills. Like many other Pennsylvania utilities, those serving this city tell customers if they can't pay for water, they must go without.

Phil Bertocci of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia says the Philadelphia Water Department alone shut off about 43,000 homes last year. That represents more than 9 percent of the utility's entire customer base.

Just shutting off the water is not the right solution for the utility or the customer, according to Bertocci.

"What you really need to do is to establish the availability of various kinds of payment arrangements so that you keep people routinely paying their utility bills every month."

Utilities say they must shut off nonpaying customers in order to control their losses. But Bertocci says disconnecting water service doesn't financially help the utility, either, in the long run.

"To shut service off means that the utility first of all doesn't collect any revenues from these customers while they are shut off, and the cost of shutting off a customer is really quite high."

Cutting off the flow of water to the poor doesn't do anyone any good, Bertocci maintains.

"It's really not a very enlightened way of going at it. And it really isn't in the interest either of customers or the utilities, as far as I'm concerned."

Bertocci says he expects Philadelphia's shutoff numbers to go even higher as the economy worsens and water rates continue to rise.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - PA