Keep the Lights ON!  Request to Fund Utility Customer Debt Relief

TURN, The Redwood Community Action Agency, ACCES, Centro La Familia Advocacy Services, The Central Valley Urban Institute and CARA tell the Governor Utility Debt Relief is urgently needed.

 

 

 

Dear Governor Newsom,

Thank you for exercising bold leadership to protect California families during the coronavirus

public health crisis by promoting moratoria to prevent housing evictions and utility

disconnections. According to a recently published study, “Policies that limit evictions are found

to reduce COVID-19 infections by 3.8% and reduce deaths by 11%. Moratoria on utility

disconnections reduce COVID-19 infections by 4.4% and mortality rates by 7.4%.” (Report

attached). The shutoffs moratorium, adopted by the CPUC, has protected 800,000 California

households who are typically disconnected annually from their utility service. When these

shutoff protections expire on June 30, customers will be required to pay all uncollected amounts

that have accumulated over the previous 13 months. Hundreds of thousands of Californians will

face a wall of debt they cannot afford, causing additional financial strain and likely resulting in

the loss of utility service. We need your help to address this looming crisis.

On behalf of California households struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus

economic crisis that has thrown millions out of work, our coalition of direct service providers,

grassroots activists and consumer advocates requests that you take the necessary steps to

allocate $1 billion of Federal COVID Emergency Funds to utility customer debt relief. We ask

that these funds be distributed by the existing network of Low Income Home Energy Assistance

Program (LIHEAP) providers which already distribute Federal energy assistance grants to lowincome

households in every county in California. We are part of national advocacy to increase

Federal funding to LIHEAP. (Letter attached). Following are brief testimonials describing the

need for customer utility debt assistance from each organization signing onto this letter.

TURN–The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group that represents 30 million

residential utility customers of PG&E, Edison, SoCal Gas and SDG&E, is concerned about drastic

increases in arrearages owed by utility customers since the beginning of the COVID crisis.

According to data provided by the four largest utility companies, the amount of unpaid bills

more than doubled from $500 million at the end of February 2020 to over $1.1 billion at the

end of December 2020, an increase of $650 million over pre–COVID levels in the first seven

months of energy usage during the pandemic. (Report attached) By June 30 when the shutoff

moratorium ends, we expect the increase in arrearages to top $1 billion, and that nearly 1 million

households will be at risk of utility disconnection, unless action is taken to reduce customer debt

and provide households with a reset.

ACCES, the association of 42 State Low-Income Energy/Weatherization Providers that

provides energy and weatherization services to 230,000 LIHEAP eligible households annually in

all 58 California counties, is concerned about the enormous bills that have piled up for families in

recent months.

“The ability to heat one’s home, water and food is essential to sustaining a household’s health and

safety. Keeping the lights on, our food/medicine refrigerated and our communications’

connections to the outside world are a basic threshold of safety and well-being for all of us during

these precarious, COVID times. Many of our clients face the loss of these basic needs including

water, because they cannot afford to pay off their large past due bills and they need help now.”

Redwood Community Action Agency, a non-profit community action agency that provided

energy, human services and other programs to 16,000 low-income rural households of

Humboldt and Modoc counties in 2020 believes that overwhelming utility debt threatens the

ability of people to remain housed.

“The loss of essential utility services places our clients’ health and safety at risk as well as their

ability to sustain housing. We have seen a huge increase in the number of clients requesting

help with their past due energy bill and they have no idea how they are going to pay it off. In

most cases, their incomes are not sufficient to pay off the arrearage in a timely manner which

leaves them hopeless and afraid.”

Centro La Familia Advocacy Services, a champion to the underserved population in rural and

urban Fresno County for five decades, has the mission of providing services that empower and

support families and individuals in our culturally diverse community.

“Our clients need help to survive economically, as Fresno County has some of the highest

poverty rates in the state, as well as high energy use that accompanies the extreme heat and cold

experienced in this region, rising rent costs, along with the economic impact and additional

costs of sheltering at home during the pandemic. Households are struggling to survive, even

more during these difficult times, and often this means prioritizing either feeding the family or

paying bills.”

The Central Valley Urban Institute is a policy and advocacy organization representing the

voices of hundreds of thousands of low income residents, and the voice of disadvantaged

communities throughout the Central Valley.

“The Central Valley is facing an extraordinary crisis in utility delinquency. Coronavirus is harming

Black and Brown communities at jarring rates due to longstanding disparities in healthcare and

our economy. History, however has taught us that the road to justice is long and arduous, and it

is clear that in order to meet the scale and scope of this crisis, swift action must be taken.”

California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA) is California’s largest grassroots advocacy

organization representing over 1 million older adults through our 300+ affiliated organizations.

CARA works on issues to improvethe quality of life for older adults, people with disabilities,

caregivers, and low income communities through education, organization, and advocacy.

“Many of our members are low income and struggle to pay for their housing, utilities, food, and

medical expenses including prescription drugs. During the pandemic, older adults have had to

choose what to pay for yet many are unaware that there are programs that could assist them. We

must expand the resources available to low income and isolated older adults, and improve

outreach and education efforts to make them aware of what might be available to them.”

TURN, ACCES, Redwood Community Action, Centro La Familia, Central Valley Urban Institute,

and CARA call upon you to take bold action to protect utility ratepayers by allocating $1 billion of

Federal COVID Emergency Funds to utility customer debt relief. California cannot afford

skyrocketing utility debt and increasing numbers of families at risk of being deprived of lighting,

heating and cooling needed for health and safety, and even evicted from their homes when the

disconnections moratorium ends on June 30. Your leadership is needed to implement a solution

that promotes equity, fairness, and sustainability.

Thank you for your consideration,

Mark W. Toney, Ph.D. • Executive Director

TURN – The Utility Reform Network

Arleen Novotney • Executive Director

ACCES

Val Martinez • Executive Director

Redwood Community Action Agency

Margarita Rocha • Executive Director

Centro La Familia Advocacy Services

Eric Payne

Eric Payne • Executive Director

The Central Valley Urban Institute

Jodi Reid

Jodi Reid • Executive Director

California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA)