Where To Get Help With Utility Bills Now (And Maybe $500 From LADWP)

A Los Angeles Department of Water and Power worker wearing a mask made in the utility's upholstery shop. (Courtesy LADWP)

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The pandemic has created financial hardship for households that have lost income since March, but there is some limited help available to families who are having a hard time keeping up with their utility bills.

The problem in the city of Los Angeles, where unemployment is at 15%, can be seen in just this one statistic: Some 50,000 households that were current on their Los Angeles Department of Water and Power bills when pandemic restrictions began in March have now fallen behind on their bills by three months or more.

To help limit the financial damage, the Los Angeles City Council is making about $50 million available to low-income families in the form of grants from the LADWP.

$500 GRANTS FROM LADWP

The DWP is offering one-time cash grants of $500 to up to 100,000 households that qualify as low-income. That can include households that were not low-income before the pandemic, but who are now.

The grants can be spent on anything, although the assumption is that recipients are going to want to focus on catching up on their bills.

LOW-INCOME HOUSEHOLDS WILL QUALIFY

The scale the DWP uses is based on the number of people in the household. A family of four that earns $54,200 or less will qualify. A bigger family can earn more, and smaller families will have a lower income threshold.

As of late last week, only about 29,000 households had applied for the grants, so the DWP extended the deadline to apply to Nov. 22. (How to apply)

If more than 100,000 households qualify for the grants, then preference would go to the households who are already part of the LADWP's subsidized rate programs.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER HELP WITH UTILITY BILLS?

LADWP and most other water, gas and power utilities have a range of programs to lower the cost of utilities for people who have low incomes, or disabilities or in some circumstances, seniors.

Southern California Edison, which has some 5 million customers in its service area, has a few different programs. One is called CARE, for California Alternate Rates for Energy. Another is called FERA, Family Electric Rate Assistance.

The state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Edison and other big investor-owned utilities (but not city-owned LADWP), also has information about programs to help customers keep their bills paid.

WILL A UTILITY CUT OFF SERVICE FOR NONPAYMENT?

Not right now. In LADWP territory, in the city of Los Angeles, shutoffs are canceled through the end of December. That might be extended to April, to match what other big utilities are doing, said LADWP spokeswoman Ellen Cheng.

Edison and Southern California Gas Company are regulated by the state, and the state has said they can't shut off utilities for nonpayment until late April of next year.

And if you have fallen behind, both Edison and SoCal Gas are starting up some bill forgiveness programs. Those start in April, when the moratorium on shutoffs ends. Basically, you can arrange with the utility to get part of your past due balance erased if you keep current on your future bills.