Mississippi's capital city is considering a unique plan to slash water rates for poor people

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The manager of the long-troubled water system in Mississippi's capital city proposed a slight rate increase for most residents Friday alongside what he said is a first-in-the-nation proposal to reduce water rates for low-income people who get government help with grocery bills.

The proposal from Ted Henifin, the third-party manager of Jackson's water and sewer systems, is the culmination of a monthslong effort to increase revenue collections in a city where roughly a quarter of the population lives in poverty. If enacted, it would be the latest in a series of changes after infrastructure breakdowns in 2022 caused many Jackson residents to go days and weeks without safe running water.

“We think this is a great opportunity to really change the dialogue around water and sewer in the city of Jackson,” Henifin said at a news conference.

Henifin said about 5,000 properties in the Jackson area use water without paying, adding to the financial strain on a system that has about $260 million in outstanding debts. To increase revenue collections without burdening those who can't afford higher bills, Henifin's proposal creates a new rate tier for the roughly 12,500 Jackson water customers who receive benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income people purchase groceries.

People who receive SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, will see their water bills lowered by an average of $20 a month. That arrangement does not exist anywhere in the country, Henifin said.

Henifin had previously floated a plan to price water based on property values to shift the burden away from Jackson’s poorest residents. Months later, the Mississippi Legislature passed a law banning that approach. State law now mandates that water be billed based on volume, not other factors like property values. Henifin said Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the state senate, approves of his new proposal.

The proposal also marks the first rate increase since a federal judge appointed Henifin to manage Jackson's water system last November. Henifin created JXN Water, a corporation to manage water infrastructure projects

The majority of JXN Water's residential customers would see an increase of about $10 per month, or a 13% increase. Customers with the largest meters, such as some commercial properties, could see increases of as much as $2,604, a 62% increase.

JXN Water will start shutting off water for people who don't pay their bills sometime after Jan. 1st, Henifin said.

Henifin will propose the new rate structure to Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who would then put the proposal on the City Council's agenda. Henifin hopes the proposal will be considered by the council on Dec. 5, but he said the federal order allows him to implement the proposal regardless.


Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.