Local Interventions for Financial Empowerment Through Utility Payments (LIFT-UP)



LIFT-UP was a two-year pilot project conducted by the NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families in five cities. LIFT-UP offers city leaders a "win-win" scenario, allowing city utilities to recoup lost revenue due to unpaid bills, while connecting residents who are behind on their utility bills with financial empowerment services to help them improve their overall financial well-being.

The Need for LIFT-UP

For many low- and moderate-income American families, one unexpected setback, such as a sudden illness or job loss, can trigger catastrophic consequences that can launch them into a ceaseless spiral of household debt. When families are unable to pay basic expenses it can often be sign of overall financial instability. Many cities have financial empowerment programs designed to help their residents, but often people who would benefit from these services either don't know they exist or how to access them.

A Missed Opportunities for Cities

Municipalities frequently own and operate their water utilities offering city leaders a unique - and often missed - opportunity to reach residents. Cities can identify families who are struggling by examining utility payment pattern data and connect them to a variety of financial empowerment services and benefits.

However, cities all too often exacerbate residents' financial challenges by aggressively seeking repayment of debts through costly punitive methods. Imposing harsh fees and employing third-party debt collectors leads to more severe consequences for families unable to pay utility bills. This additional debt burden further jeopardizes family well-being and may leave them at risk of eviction or foreclosure. As families fall behind on their utility bills, cities feel the pinch too, as using costly debt collectors or imposing repeated shut-offs and renewals of services drain resources from limited budgets.

NLC's LIFT-UP Project

Between 2014 and 2016, NLC conducted an evaluation in five cities - Houston, TX; Louisville, KY; Newark, NJ; Savannah, GA; and St. Petersburg, FL - to test the effectiveness of the LIFT-UP model. During the two-year pilot, the five cities received technical assistance, peer learning opportunities and funding to design and implement the LIFT-UP program. 

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