Mayor Murray releases recommendations to double enrollment in Seattle’s Utility Discount Program

UDP presser

Mayor Murray today provided an update on the City of Seattle’s efforts to promote affordability by increasing enrollment in the Utility Discount Program.

“It’s extremely important that Seattle remain inclusive and affordable for people all across the income spectrum,” said Murray. “Increasing enrollment in the Utility Discount Program is another critical step we are taking on the road to making Seattle affordable for everyone who wants to live here.”

Recently approved by the City Council, the Seattle City Light (SCL) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) strategic business plans address affordability by setting stable rate increases, thereby controlling costs for customers. SCL’s rate increases have averaged almost 7 percent over the past 5 years and will now be held to 4.4 percent per year. SPU’s rate increases, which have averaged almost 7 percent annually over the past 10 years, will now be held at 4.6 percent per year. Find graphs of these changes here.

Both strategic plans also include the goal of doubling enrollment of the city’s Utility Discount Program by 2018, a goal announced by Murray in January.

Seattle has one of the strongest utility discount programs in the country; however, of the estimated 72,000 Seattle residents who qualify for this important program, only 14,000 were enrolled at the beginning of the year. Faced with this information, Murray put together an interdepartmental team to strengthen the program. Read the report here.

“Each month Solid Ground serves thousands of families who must make tough choices between paying their rent and paying their utility bills. Increased utility rate assistance is critical for Seattle’s working families who are at risk of being priced out. Solid Ground applauds the mayor’s call to expand the Utility Discount Program and looks forward to continued efforts to keep Seattle affordable and inclusive,” said Gordon McHenry, president and CEO of Solid Ground.

Since January 2014, the Utility Discount Program has made a concerted effort to raise enrollment by running direct mail marketing campaigns and coupling their efforts with other services and service providers, such as auto-enrolling customers who are participating in SPU’s Emergency Assistance Program and allowing affordable housing providers to enroll new and current tenants. Changes in the program also allow for customers to remain enrolled when they move. These changes have led to a 12 percent increase in enrollment through June 2014.

Additional changes are on the horizon the Utility Discount Program, including creating a single online point of entry for consumers, an online application process, auto-enrolling qualifying subsidized housing units; integrating Utility Discount Program with Seattle Financial Empowerment Centers, aligning eligibility thresholds and benefit across both utilities, lessening documentation requirements, extending the recertification time from 18 months to 2 years, and including the utility discount program benefit on monthly billing statements.

“The recommendations for streamlining enrollment in the Utility Discount Program will undoubtedly make the program more accessible, enabling the City to help more Seattle residents,” said Steve Daschle, Co-Chair of the Seattle Human Services Coalition.

For more information, visit http://murray.seattle.gov/udp.

Video from the press conference:

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