Hundreds of city workers may have been taking their own small piece of a $2 million public-assistance lifeline offered annually by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission for low-income water users.
The City Controller’s Office recently audited the commission’s Customer Assistance Program, which lets a four-person household with a total income of less than $46,000 take $15 off the average $55 monthly water and sewer bill. The audit revealed that of the 7,400 residences enrolled in the program, 473 matched addresses on file for city workers, according to SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue.
The addresses and names were not released, but the vast majority of such employees would not qualify for low-income assistance, as San Francisco city workers earn an average annual salary of $93,000, plus benefits.
The program, which has grown to an annual $2 million cost since its inception eight years ago, is funded by ratepayer dollars. Earlier this year, the SFPUC sent out 90 letters to a sampling of those enrolled in the program to ask for income verification. Nearly half of those residents were subsequently removed from the program — either because they didn’t respond or their incomes were too high, Jue said.
If particular city workers are found to have unduly taken the discounts, Jue said, they could be punished.
“We are going to investigate and explore requiring city employees that abused the system to pay back any money,” Jue said. “In addition, depending on the specific situation, personnel action may also be taken.”
None of the money has been paid back thus far, and Jue said it might never happen.
“It would be difficult to verify people’s past income and household numbers,” Jue said. “When people first applied for the program they may have qualified, but their situation may have changed.”
Jue said the SFPUC has relied on a combination of methods — such as federal tax forms, or previous approval for similar programs offered by PG&E and San Francisco’s garbage collector Recology — to find out who was eligible for the water program.
Tonia Lediju, director of city audits for the City Controller’s Office, declined to share a draft report detailing the problem.