NY State to Forgive $672M Worth of Unpaid Gas & Electric Bills from Pandemic Era for Half a Million Customers
Edited by: Fern Sidman
New York State will forgive $672 million worth of unpaid gas and electric utility bills from the pandemic era for about half a million customers, in what Governor Kathy Hochul’s office said was “the largest utility customer financial assistance program in state history, “ according to a Reuters report.
The relief is expected to prevent potential service terminations for more than 478,000 residential customers and about 56,000 small businesses, while avoiding significant downgrades to their credit, the office of Governor said in a statement sent to the media.
The statement also said that Thursday’s announcement represents the largest utility customer financial assistance program in New York state history and follows a series of policies announced last week to address energy affordability and emissions reductions as part of Governor Hochul’s State of the State address.
The debt-forgiveness program approved by the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) will provide financial relief to customers and will help avoid huge statewide termination of service, making utility bills more affordable for all households and small businesses. These one-time credits provide relief to all residential non-low-income customers and small-commercial customers for the period through May 1, 2022, similar to a program approved last summer for low-income customers.
“Every New Yorker deserves affordable energy, yet too many New Yorkers are at risk of having their lights turned off due to financial problems caused by the pandemic,” Governor Hochul said. “Earlier this month, I laid out extensive proposals to make energy more affordable in my State of the State address, and with this historic electric and gas utility relief we’re achieving another major milestone to help New Yorkers stay warm during the cold winter months.”
Governor Hochul also announced $200 million in relief for high electric bills by providing a discount to more than 800,000 New Yorkers making under $75,000 who have not been eligible for the State’s current utility discount program, a new initiative that is separate from Thursday’s $672 million announcement. In addition, Governor Hochul announced the creation of the Energy Affordability Guarantee, the first-in-the nation pilot program that ensures low-income New Yorkers participating in the EmPower Plus program never pay more than 6 percent of their incomes on electricity and incentivizes them to fully electrify their homes, according to the statement sent to the media.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant financial hardship to customers and resulted in the shuttering of businesses and widespread loss of jobs statewide, the statement said. Unpaid consumer and small business utility debts have risen considerably since March 2020 and are beyond the ability of most impacted New Yorkers to pay.
Last week, Hochul said during her 2023 State of the State address that New York will implement a program that sets an annual cap on pollution throughout its economy to lower emissions while aiming to bring in more than $1 billion a year, Reuters reported.
“Throughout these challenging times, Governor Hochul has been steadfast in her drive to help consumers. To address this major problem, the PSC has approved measures to strengthen and improve utility energy affordability programs to reduce consumer energy burden and address low-income customer needs,” said Public Service Commission Chair Rory M. Christian.
“This innovative and collaborative approach is critical to helping hundreds of thousands of additional New Yorkers who fell behind on their utility bills during the pandemic to reduce or eliminate these arrears. Governor Hochul and the Department of Public Service recognized the glaring need and the potential costs of inaction by focusing on an approach that provides substantial help to many affected households across the state,” said Daniel W. Tietz, Commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
Beth Finkel, the director of the New York State branch of the AARP said, “We commend the leadership of Governor Hochul and the work of the Public Service Commission on this order providing relief to so many utility customers, including older New Yorkers, who have been struggling to pay their mounting utility debt since the start of the pandemic. AARP will continue to work with the Governor, the PSC and the legislature to ensure New York ratepayers have affordable energy services.”
“The first phase of utility debt relief was a tremendous success for New York State’s EAP identified low-income residential customers, but hundreds of thousands of fixed- and moderate-income ratepayers also needed help with their electric and gas bills. Inaction was simply not an option, and today’s historic Commission order takes monumental steps forward to providing much needed financial relief, while also protecting nearly 500,000 residential households from utility shutoffs during the coldest months of winter. PULP thanks Governor Hochul, the Public Service Commission, and all of the stakeholders in the Energy Affordability Working Group for their commitment to addressing energy debt from the pandemic, ‘ said Laurie Wheelock, the Executive Director and Counsel of the Public Utility Law Project.