In a unique move, Philadelphia will assist its residents who are behind on their water bills by tying water rates to income level. Under the Tiered Assistance Program (TAP), participating customers will pay a fixed amount for their water bill, starting at $12 per month, based upon income. To encourage participation in the program, existing debt will be indefinitely suspended upon entry to the program and the penalties and interest on that debt will be forgiven after two years of on-time payments. Officials hope to enroll tens of thousands of households in the new program and will be monitoring the effects on the water department’s budget.
Seattle now requires landlords to provide information on voter registration and a registration form to new tenants. Renters are more likely than homeowners to be low-income, young, and people of color, and studies have shown that because renters move more frequently, this can lead to lapses in voter registrations and underrepresentation. The legislation is designed to provide easy and convenient access to voter information to these groups. Landlord penalties for failure to comply include fines and allowing the tenant to terminate the rental agreement.
In Westchester County, New York, the Department of Social Services has launched a pilot program that helps non-custodial fathers receive help from the state for debt owed in child support in exchange for training in life skills, parenting, employment, and the fulfillment of other benchmarks. Under the Responsible Employed Active Loving (R.E.A.L) Parenting Pilot for Stronger Families, non-custodial parents can eliminate most of the debt they owe to the county government if they make certain employment and payment goals. The current pilot has achieved success with 25 volunteers — unemployed fathers on public assistance who have child support debt ranging from $2,000 to $80,000 — and county leaders hope the program, which also includes intensive case management, will lead to stronger relationships between children and parents.
The state of Oregon has launched an automatic-enrollment, payroll-deduction IRA program for its private-sector workers. The auto-IRA, dubbed OregonSaves, will roll out in phases starting in early 2018, with the rollout scheduled for completion by 2020. Four other states — Illinois, California, Connecticut and Maryland — have passed similar legislation. Officials hope the program will strengthen the ability of private-sector employees to enhance their retirement security if they do not have a 401(k) plan available at work.
To ensure that Nebraska children and families in crisis receive help as rapidly as possible, a new initiative from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services aims to connect them with a free mental health professional, either in person or online, within one hour of a call for help. Building upon the Nebraska Family Helpline, the goal is to spare families from more intensive, expensive services later on. Once a call is made, an on-call mental health professional will respond to situations needing immediate attention, working with the family to deescalate the crisis, and referring them to other resources. Callers from more remote, rural areas could be connected to someone online. The initiative is part of a broader system of care that is being underwritten by a federal grant.
The District of Columbia has become the first jurisdiction to provide a new gender option on its driver's licenses or identification cards. Residents can now choose X for a gender-neutral identifier, instead of M or F. Officials and advocates observe that the new option will be helpful for non-binary and transgender people, who will now also be able to self-attest to a gender identifier without needing to receive a signature from a health provider.