Newsom zaps energy bill debt for Californians

Tulare County residents will see relief from energy bill debt as Gov. Gavin Newsom releases funding allowing Southern California Edison to distribute $218 million in energy bill credits

SACRAMENTO – Many individuals still carry the burden of not being able to pay their bills during the pandemic, but Tulare County residents who have energy bill debt with Southern California Edison should see a credit on their bills in February.

The vast majority of Tulare County’s energy is covered by Southern California Edison (SCE), with the exception of the northern most area as well as the southwest corner, which are covered by PG&E. According to SCE spokesperson Ron Gales, throughout their entire coverage area of 50,000 square miles, they will be distributing $218 million in credits. It is still too soon to tell how much money will be credited to which areas. Gales said there is no need for customers to call and see if they will be receiving a credit, because that specific information is still unknown as well. 

For those who do receive a credit, they will receive a letter in the mail in addition to a credit shown on their February bill. Gales said some, but not all customers will receive full forgiveness through this funding. The funding comes through the California Arrearage Payment Program (CAPP), a program administered through the California Department of Community Services and Development (CSD). It was created to reduce or eliminate overdue electric and gas bills and it will provide real relief to households who have suffered the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased energy debt.

On Nov. 22, the CSD announced the release of $647 million in funding by Governor Gavin Newsom for CAPP. The $647 million is expected to help over 1.4 million households who have struggled to pay their overdue energy bills throughout the pandemic. The money will eliminate all past due energy debt accrued by residential customers between March 4, 2020 and Dec. 31 2021 through CAPP. 

“California households, through no fault of their own, continue to suffer from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and cost of living increases, including energy expenses,” California CSD director David Scribner said. “The state was able to mobilize quickly to address historic levels of energy debt through CAPP in 2021, and building on last year’s success, we have done it again in 2022 to effectively and efficiently deliver critical financial assistance to Californians in need.”

The funding for this program was budgeted for earlier this year in June 2022. By adding this $647 million, the total amount of assistance distributed for bill credits over the last year equals $1.6 billion. This year, Gov. Newsom and the California Legislature established an additional year of the CAPP in 2022.

The 2022 program was established with efforts to address 100% of past due energy bill balances incurred by residents during the pandemic. The relief is given through the energy and utility companies to their customers. In the state, 33 energy utilities applied for the 2022 CAPP funding on behalf of the 1.4 million eligible residential customers. The participating state companies are required to apply the bill credits to their customers accounts within 60 days of receiving the funds.  

In previous rounds of funding, utility companies were able to provide a minimal amount of relief to their customers, as there was only so much funding available. But according to the CSD, this last round of funding, made available through the most recent budget, will help eliminate all remaining debt of those that have been applied for.

“Once again, we are leading with our values by working to ensure that our neighbors economically impacted by the pandemic can keep their lights on,” California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. “Many of us fell behind as the pandemic continued, and our commitment to further address energy debts is another way we are lifting up all Californians.”

The first round of CAPP funding was dispersed in 2021 and over 1.5 million residential and commercial energy utility customers received a CAPP bill credit. Then, the credit was to either reduce or eliminate past bills. And while it may have provided significant relief for some, not all residential arrearages were covered. 

“California has made unprecedented commitments to help vulnerable households stay afloat as the cost-of-living increases,” Gov. Newsom said. “By providing utility relief that will eliminate over 1.4 million Californians’ overdue energy bills, we’re helping families who continue to struggle with higher costs.”

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