NY to provide $250M to help poor households pay overdue energy bills


The National Grid office in downtown Syracuse during the early evening. (File photo- Syracuse.com)


Syracuse, N.Y. -- New York is using $250 million in federal pandemic assistance to help low-income households that have fallen more than two months behind on their electric and gas bills.


Consumer advocates say the number of New Yorkers who fell behind on their energy bills soared during the coronavirus pandemic.


As of April, nearly 1.3 million New York households had fallen behind in their bills. Overall, $1.9 billion is owed statewide on their energy bills, according to the Public Utility Law Project of New York, an advocacy group for low- and fixed-income residential utility customers.


This $250 million won’t cover all that. Instead, it will help pay a small portion of the overall overdue bills. Officials plan to aim the largest portions of money toward paying down the $435 million owed by low-income households, according to the Public Utility Law Project.


Qualifying utility customers would not have to do anything to receive the help. Utility companies would automatically provide credits on overdue bills owed by customers who participate in the companies’ energy assistance programs for low-income customers. The credits are to be issued by Aug. 1.


Lawmakers directed the state’s Department of Public Service to determine how the $250 million should be allocated among low-income households that have fallen more than 60 days behind on their energy bills. The New York Public Service Commission is expected to issue an order on Thursday establishing the rules for allocating the money.


Ian Donaldson, a spokesman for the public utility law group, said many families fell behind on their energy bills after their main income earners lost their jobs, especially early in the pandemic when much of the state’s economy was forced to shut down. Though the economy has started to recover, many households, especially those with low incomes, are having trouble catching up on their bills, he said.


New York prohibited utility service cutoffs during the pandemic, but the moratorium ended Dec. 21. Many utilities agreed not to cut off customers for the remainder of the winter, but customers behind on their bills are now facing termination of their service, Donaldson said.


State lawmakers provided $250 million in New York’s 2022-2023 state budget to help low-income households pay their energy bills. The money is coming from financial aid the state received from the federal government to offset the impact of the pandemic on its economy.


The state’s Energy Affordability Policy Working Group, a collection of state agencies, utilities and interested stakeholder groups, has recommended that the money be allocated to the state’s utilities based on the overdue amounts owed by their low-income customers.


Consolidated Edison, which provides service in New York City and Westchester County, would receive the most -- $164 million. National Grid, which serves a wide swath of Upstate New York, would receive the second most, at $40 million. New York State Energy and Gas, which serves the Southern Tier and parts of Central New York, would receive $5.8 million.


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