Seattle Wants YOU to Pay Less for Utilities

City leaders want to make it easier for poor families to enroll in the Utilities Discount Program.

Last summer, we wrote about how Seattle’s Utilities Discount Program, which subsidizes utility bills for poor households, wasn’t reaching all the low-income households it should, thanks to bureaucratic red tape and technical problems with data sharing. Two months later, Mayor Ed Murray’s office announced that it would auto-enroll about 5,000 new households in the UDP.

This afternoon, the full Seattle City Council will consider two pieces of legislation to further expand UDP. Five of the nine council members have already voted in favor of at least one of the two bills in committee, and sources inside City Hall tell us they expect the bills to sail through votes at today’s full council meeting at 2 p.m.

Currently, tenents of federally-subsidized public housing who receive utilities allowances are barred from the UDP—in fact, that’s the “second largest reason why applicants are found ineligible for the UDP,” according to council documents. The problem, according to those documents, is that federally subsidized renters still end up “seeking assistance [from the city] through other programs such as the Low Income Heating Assistance Program, Emergency Low Income Assistance Program and Project Share. In fact these customers make up over 50% of those who are awarded help. This can be costly, stressful and over burdensome for a customer struggling with their utility bill.”

Two council bills up for consideration this afternoon, CB 118687 and CB 118690, would change city code to allow renters getting federal utilities assistance to also enroll in UDP. This would allow tenents of Seattle Housing Authority, and probably eventually the county’s public housing as well, to enroll in UDP rather than the emergency programs listed above.

The bills are sponsored by Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant, respectively, but Sawant’s office tells us the real credit for the two bills goes to Kelly Enright, director of Customer Service at City Light.

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