The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) announced on Nov. 1 an economic relief program of approximately $300 million to reduce utility debt for over 250,000 qualifying low-income customers who have been financially harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the “most comprehensive” utility debt assistance initiative in the city’s history, the program aims to assist low-income customers falling behind on their utility bills before the pandemic.
The backbone of this program is the $285 million pandemic relief fund from the State of California. LADWP will dedicate $15 million to the effort, complementing state and federal funds.
“No one who is struggling to make ends meet should face further hardship, and this new program will deliver essential financial relief to help hard-working Angelenos get back on their feet,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
Martin L Adams, LADWP general manager and chief engineer, echoed Garcetti’s sentiment.
“We also realize that financial hardships continue for many of our customers and are very pleased to offer additional help to tens of thousands more customers who need assistance,” Adams said.
Utility customers don’t need to take any action to take advantage of the program. Qualifying customers will receive credits on their bills once the state funds become available in the next two weeks.
After credits are granted, customers who still have unpaid bills will become eligible for additional financial assistance, including an interest-free extended repayment period and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The repayment period can be extended from one to three years for those with past due balances.
For the Low Income Discount Program, participants can take four years to repay their bills. With $15 million funding, this program may provide up to $500 debt assistance to as many as 80,000 low-income customers, to help them maintain access to power and water.
Additionally, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners voted unanimously Oct. 26 to extend the utility shutoff moratorium to March 31 next year, so the customers would have ample time to access the relief funds and assistance.
To check eligibility for the Low Income Discount Program, customers may visit www.ladwp.com/financialassistance.
As the pandemic continues to undermine financial security, more Californians are falling behind on paying their utility bills. Officials found that customer arrearages have significantly increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, approximately 9 million Californians have past due bills, resulting in a total amount of $1.15 billion utility debt, according to California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
The majority of these customers owe less than $200 in utility bills, and approximately 1.5 million owe between $200 and $500.
CPUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said the utility debt has been accumulating “largely because of the pandemic and the economic downturn.”