This page provides information on the authority for Washington local governments to provide senior, low-income, and disability discounts to utility customers, the methods used for qualification, and examples.
Statutes and Rate Methodology
RCW 35.92.020(5) authorizes cities to "provide assistance to aid low-income persons in connection with services provided under" chapter 35.92 RCW ("Municipal Utilities"), and RCW 35.67.020(5) provides cities the same authority with respect to sewerage services. RCW 36.94.140(4) provides identical authority for counties.
Also, RCW 74.38.070 provides authority for cities, counties, public utility districts, and any other municipal corporation or quasi-municipal corporation providing utility services to offer reduced utility rates for low-income senior citizens and other low-income citizens.
Article 8, Sec. 7 of the state constitution permits "gifts" of public funds in "support of the poor and infirm," which has been interpreted by the courts to mean "poor or infirm." See, e.g., Health Care Facilities Authority v. Ray, 93 Wn.2d 108 (1980).
Some utilities limit their discounts to low-income senior citizens. Many, however, include the disabled. Most of the ordinances below define "disabled" to be those people who qualify for special parking privileges under RCW 46.16.381(1)(a) through (f) and blind people as defined in RCW 74.18.020(4). Chehalis, however, requires that customers applying for the totally disabled customer rate furnish proof of such a disability from the Social Security Administration. Port Angeles includes those who qualify for supplemental social security benefits due to a disability. Richland adds developmentally disabled citizens as defined in RCW 71A.10.020(2) and mentally ill as defined in RCW 71.05.020(1) with low incomes. In some cases, the utility requires that this person be the head of household and in other cases, a restriction on the income level of any cotenant is placed.
Edmonds is one of the few cities that exempts all low-income people (total disposable income including that of his or her spouse or cotenant does not exceed the amount specified in RCW 84.36.381(5)(b))
In defining "low-income," there are a number of different approaches:
- 3. Use the income level set by the statutes in RCW 84.36.381(5)(b) to qualify for a property tax exemption; or
- 4. Use some other number that the city council determines (Chehalis is an example).
The third approach might be the easiest to administer because the utility can ask the person applying for the reduced rates for a copy of the property tax exemption, and, presumably, the county assessor has checked the income levels.
- Bainbridge Island Municipal Code Secs. 13.16.080 -13.16.086 - Low income senior citizen, disabled citizen discount
- Bellevue Municipal Code Ch. 24.10 - Utility Service Charge Relief
- Buckley Municipal Code Ch. 14.16 - Low income utility discounts
- Chehalis Municipal Code:
- Sec. 13.16.080 - Low-income senior citizen customer and totally disabled customer utility discount rate
- Sec. 13.12.130 - Base water rates for low-income senior citizen customers and totally disabled customers
- East Wenatchee Municipal Code Ch. 4.34 - Rates for low-income seniors and low-income disabled
- Edmonds Municipal Code Sec. 7.30.070 - Water, stormwater, and sewer rates reductions for low-income citizens
- Ferndale Municipal Code Sec. 13.04.090 - Low-income senior and disabled citizen rates
- Issaquah Municipal Code Ch. 13.92 - Senior citizen and low-income citizen fee reductions
- Oak Harbor Municipal Code Ch. 3.90 - Low-income credit on utility bills
- Port Angeles Municipal Code Ch. 13.20 - Utility discount for low-income senior citizens and disabled citizens
- Richland Municipal Code Sec. 3.29.030 - Special residential rates-qualification as low-income senior citizen or low-income disabled citizens
- Tumwater Municipal Code Sec. 13.18.090 - Life-line, low-income senior citizen and low- income disabled person rate discounts
- West Richland Municipal Code
Voluntary Contribution Utility Assistance Programs