Study Shows National League of Cities’ LIFT-UP Program Helps Cities Recoup Lost Revenue & Families Build Financial Security

Innovative financial empowerment program a “win-win” for cities and residents

WASHINGTON – Today, the National League of Cities (NLC) released an evaluation report highlighting the positive results of its two-year pilot program, Local Interventions for Financial Empowerment through Utility Payments (LIFT-UP), an evidence-based framework that seeks to help low-income families pay their utility bills and achieve financial stability.

“A growing number of city leaders are recognizing the important role that local government can play in helping families who are struggling with financial instability and debt,” said NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony. “NLC’s LIFT-UP program offers cities a successful framework that allows city utilities to recoup lost revenue, while moving families down a path toward financial stability.”

LIFT-UP helps cities align local financial empowerment services with municipal utility debt collection practices by offering residents who are in debt to city-owned utilities an opportunity to restructure their outstanding balances and receive financial counseling and services to help get them back on track. Since starting the program in April 2013, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families has worked with five cities – Savannah, Georgia; St. Petersburg, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Newark, New Jersey; and Houston - to implement the pilot program and test variations of the program model.

“NLC’s LIFT-UP project has given St. Petersburg an opportunity to implement a program that benefits our residents and our city government. This innovative initiative has connected residents who are in debt to our water utility to financial coaching to help them pay their water bill and address other financial challenges, while the city recoups revenue and avoids costly water shut-offs” said Karl Nurse, councilmember, St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (CFS) conducted the evaluation of LIFT-UP, which shows that participating cities were better able to collect overdue water utility payments with less reliance on costly debt collection agencies or resorting to shutting off service to customers. At the same time, program participants were able to catch up on overdue bills, make more on-time payments and save money on late fees. 

The CFS evaluation affirmed that both cities and participants benefited from the LIFT-UP program due to a combination of these program elements. By the end of the study participants were making more frequent, on-time utility payments, or were at reduced risk of service termination relative to customers who were not offered LIFT-UP. Program milestones include:

  • Houston saw a 69 percent increase in the likelihood of program participants frequently paying their water utility bills on time.
  • Newark program participants saw a 34 percent reduction in outstanding water bill balances.
  • Program participants in St. Petersburg were 53 percent less likely to experience service shut-offs.
  • Additionally, St. Petersburg participants saved an average of $140 in avoidable fees. 

Members of the media are invited to participate in a webinar with NLC program experts and city representatives who participated in the project on Sept. 14, at 3 p.m. EDT to hear a more detailed discussion of the LIFT-UP model and CFS’ evaluation of the pilot program. Click here to register or find out more information.

The LIFT-UP initiative was supported by grants from the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) Financial Capability Innovation Fund II, the Ford Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation

To learn more:

  • Learn more about LIFT-UP here.
  • See the Executive Summary of the LIFT-UP evaluation here.
  • Read the full report, Implementation and Impact Evaluation of Local Interventions for Financial Empowerment through Utility Payments (LIFT-UP), here.
  • Register for the Sept. 14 webinar, New NLC Research: LIFT-UP Pilot Improves Utility Collections While Helping Families, here.



About the National League of Cities
The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans.