Community

Need help paying your phone bill? Help may be a phone call away

Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed a proclamation declaring Sept. 13-17 Washington Telephone Assistance Program Awareness Week, in coordination with a national effort sponsored by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates.

During this week, the Utilities and Transportation Commission and community partners will promote Washington Telephone Assistance Program rate discounts that help residents maintain access to basic telephone service.

“Access to local emergency services and community resources is vital to all state residents,” Commission Chairman Jeff Goltz said in a press release. "We want our low-income and elderly residents to stay connected and are reaching out to those who need phone service but can’t afford it.”

Residents who participate in or are eligible for certain public-assistance programs, such as Food Assistance or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, from the state Department of Social and Health Services are entitled to receive local telephone service for about $8 per month plus taxes and fees. The Washington Telephone Assistance Program also provides a reduced- or no-cost service installation for qualifying households that do not currently have telephone service. To apply for Washington Telephone Assistance Program benefits, contact your local telephone company and provide your DSHS client identification number.

“In 2009, more than 160,000 Washington residents benefitted from WTAP discounts,” said Grace Moy, WTAP program coordinator for DSHS. “This program provides a vital lifeline to our state’s most vulnerable residents.”

The WTAP Community Voice Mail Program provides a free personal phone number and voice mailbox to qualifying residents in transition housing, because the line between a job interview and a job offer can be as thin as a telephone cord. Without voice mail, applicants cannot respond quickly to job offers and may lose the chance to work.

For more information on the Washington Telephone Assistance Program, contact DSHS at 1-888-700-8880 or www.dshs.wa.gov.

For information on the Community Voice Mail program, visit www.cvm.org.

If you have problems signing up for Washington Telephone Assistance Program benefits, call the UTC at 1-888-333-WUTC (9882) or visit

www.utc.wa.gov/consumer.

The UTC is the state agency in charge of regulating the rates and services of telephone companies operating in Washington.

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