As the coronavirus pandemic intensified in California, so did the number of customers unable to pay their utility bills. To protect struggling Californians, a moratorium was issued last year to ban companies from disconnecting services.
As the state prepares to reopen next week, that moratorium — imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission — will expire July 1. The order kept the lights on for residents throughout some of the toughest moments of the pandemic, but Californians have collectively racked up millions of dollars in unpaid bills.
In a recent survey, we asked readers to share their thoughts. The poll — which drew 3,078 respondents and appeared in questionnaire form this week on Patch — is meant not to be a scientific poll but only to give a broad idea of public sentiment.
When asked whether this moratorium should be extended, 55.8 percent said “yes,” 36.1 percent said “no” and 8.1 percent were unsure.
Next week, California will fully open for business June 15 and experts are already predicting an economic boom for the state. So, the California’s utility agencies want their money.
A few solutions to address the near $2 million in unpaid debt have been proposed; these have ranged from total forgiveness of unpaid bills incurred by low income households, to partial forgiveness for all customers to various subsidies, some of which would be provided by the utilities themselves.
When asked whether “total forgiveness of unpaid bills incurred by low income households” would be a fair solution, voters were split:
- 47.4 percent said “no.”
- 42.8 percent said “yes.”
- 9.8 percent were unsure.
Another proposed solution was to forgive all customers to various subsidies, some of which would be provided by the utilities themselves.
We asked readers: “Do you think this is fair?”
- 41.6 percent said “yes.”
- 36.8 percent said “no.”
- 21.6 percent were unsure.
One of the state’s leading consumer advocacy groups, The Utility Reform Network told California’s utility commission that utility company stockholders should also have to make a financial contribution to the delinquency relief efforts. TURN argued that the pandemic was a crisis that affected all members of the community.
“It would be unreasonable for shareholder profits to be shielded from the crisis,” TURN said, suggesting the utilities might later have their contributions repaid with federal or other funds.
When asked whether utility company stockholders should have to contribute to the delinquency effort, voters were divided yet again.
- 45 percent said “yes.”
- 39.6 percent answered “no.”
- 15.4 percent said they were “not sure.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed $2 billion to pay off outstanding utility bills split evenly between overdue water and electric bills, but the state Legislature has yet to announce its own negotiations. In a separate proposal, $1 billion could go to municipal electric utility and public water agency customers pay their bills.
Several utilities contacted by Patch said they were reviewing the preliminary decision and would await final action by the Commission before commenting.
We asked respondents to share their thoughts either on the moratorium of solutions for delinquent utility bills in California. Here were some of their responses:
Have families set up payment plans. Only shut it off if the payment plan isn’t followed.
You’ve had time to find a job. They are out there now. Pay your bills like we did.
We need to have compassion for the people who need electricity for oxygen and sleep apnea machines. Triple digit weather is coming soon and will be hard for people to breathe if they have medical problems.
Payment plans need to be enforced ASAP. Any forgiveness given, should be credited to those who have paid their utility bills.
The moratorium may seem too much to ask for, but for all of us who have fallen behind on our bills, this would be the greatest stimulus package ever given, it would be a blessing. This would help a lot of people from becoming another statistic in the homeless population.
Unpaid bills are costs to the utilities that end up by law in their rates. This is unfair to the ratepayers who paid their bills. Help those who truly need help through existing social aid mechanisms, not through bill forgiveness.
California is just beginning to reopen [and] some of us are still out of work. The moratorium should continue [and] the utilities companies should offer to take installment payments without charging interest & forgiven at least half of the bill.
It is not fair to forgive people for past due amounts. A lot of people have struggled to keep up with their bills but have found a way to sacrifice on some things to pay their utility bills, so it is not fair to those people who have paid.
The moratorium was extended in March and offers several resources for Californians. See the full order here.