‘Water’s Off’ provides free plumbing services for seniors, low-income families

04.03.17

‘Water’s Off’ provides free plumbing services for seniors, low-income families

For someone who’s been a handyman since he could remember, it was tough for John Ravenhorst when medical issues forced him to give up his self-sufficiency.

After four months in the hospital with medical issues, John Ravenhorst came away with doctors ‘ orders to never lift more than 20 pounds again. So when help is offered, even though he might be reluctant to accept it, he’s grateful.

“I’m used to doing just about anything and everything myself — I always have,” Ravenhorst said. “It’s hard to swallow your pride.”

On Saturday, more than 20 plumbers with Local 6 Plumbers and Pipefitters hit Rochester, donated their time, to help about 20 low-income and elderly households with their water and plumbing needs. From leaky faucets, to installing new toilets, the team provided labor and materials for the fixes.

Ravenhorst’s home was one of the stops, where plumbers replaced a leaky faucet and installed a new toilet.

“It’s good that there are outfits like this that are willing to help,” Ravenhorst said.

For low-income families, and those living on a fixed income, things like a leaky faucet can unnecessarily drive up already difficult-to-pay-for utility bills.

Joe Moenck, lead organizer for Minnesota Pipefitters, was one of the plumbers helping out at Ravenhorst’s home Saturday. He said utility bills aren’t the only problem families experience with plumbing issues — those can also lead to mold or other household damage that are hazardous to a person’s health.

“When we can curb the problem, with the plumbing issue, we can work on all those other things, too,” Moenck said. “We as a plumber’s union have the opportunity to really give back to people who need help.”

Since 1994, union plumbers and contractors have assisted families throughout the state. They hold two events a year, “Water’s Off” each spring, and “Heat’s On” in the fall to inspect and prepare furnaces for the winter.

The event is coordinated by Three Rivers, a nonprofit human service organization, that coordinates energy assistance applications in Goodhue, Rice, Wabasha and Olmsted counties, said Lynette Stott, the program’s coordinator.

Each year, Three Rivers works with about 3,000 households in Olmsted County, helping with energy usage and utility bills, to system repair and replacement. On Saturday, they were focused on the elderly in Rochester.

For some families, it’s just a stop-gap while they’re having a one-time financial crisis, Stott said. For others, it might be an essential part of paying their bills.

But, funding for the program, through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, is now uncertain. As President Trump’s budget sits, the funding is zeroed out, Stott said. While she said she doesn’t think the current version of the budget will make it through Congress, Three Rivers’ future is uncertain after funding dries up in April.

“We are pretty concerned that this essential program for low-income families could be zeroed out by the president and Congress,” she said.

This story was originally posted by Taylor Nachtigal on PostBulletin.com, March 27, 2017.