For older adults in the Seattle area, new changes are on the horizon. The City of Seattle is changing the eligibility requirements for the Utility Discount Program (UDP). The UDP program provides income-qualified residential households with discounts on their Seattle City Light electricity bill and Seattle Public Utilities water, sewer, and solid waste bills.
Currently, those who qualify are eligible for 60 percent off Seattle City Light and 50 percent off Seattle Public Utilities. For current UDP households, the average monthly benefit translates into $43 for City Light and $59 for Seattle Public Utilities.
The City of Seattle will change the current income calculation to allow qualified Social Security recipients to deduct Medicare Part B premium payments from their gross income calculation—a change the City believes will increase participation and help more Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utility customers offset utility costs. More than half of enrolled households earn less than 30 percent of the area median income, which is considered “extremely low” by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards.
“We know too well that for some Seattleites, particularly older adults on fixed incomes, the rising costs of utilities is a hardship,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “This administrative change allows more people to take advantage of the utility discounts the City offers, and keep more of their money in their pockets.”
The Utility Discount Program has served Seattle homeowners and tenants since the 1980s, and supports the Human Services Department’s impact area of supporting affordability and livability. Historically, eligibility for the program’s services has been based on an individual’s gross income. The City will now change the income eligibility requirements specifically for older adults who are eligible for the Social Security Medicare Part B deduction by using an individual’s net income to calculate UDP eligibility. Customers who do not have the Medicare B Social Security deduction will continue to use their gross income during the application process.
The new rules are part of the City’s Age-Friendly Seattle initiative, promoting ways to make Seattle a place where older adults can live and thrive. Currently, 32,800 households are enrolled in the UDP program, with 38 percent of heads of households being 65 years and older. The City predicts the change could affect up to 1,000 Seattle Public Utilities customers and 2,800 Seattle City Light Customers.
Previously, older adults whose income was over the eligibility threshold by as little as $137 would not qualify for the programs that could significantly impact their ability to maintain their households. Those 2017 applicants who receive Social Security income with a Part B Medicare deduction and appear to have missed the income threshold will be re-evaluated and contacted directly by Utility Discount Program staff.
Contributor Meg Olberding directs external affairs for the Seattle Human Services Department.