Central Hudson customers to receive up to $2,000
Low-income Central Hudson customers received a lifeline last summer: one-time credits as part of a $567 million statewide COVID-relief program created to wipe out unpaid bills accumulated before May 1.
Now, the same kind of assistance is on the way for other residents, as well as businesses, with unpaid electric and gas bills before that date. Under a plan approved on Jan. 19 by the Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulator, more than 500,000 electric and gas customers statewide will receive one-time bill credits totaling $672 million.
Central Hudson’s credits will top out at $2,000 for qualifying residences and $1,250 for small businesses, according to documents outlining the plan, which was crafted by a working group composed of the major utilities, consumer groups, New York City and the state Office of Disability and Temporary Assistance.
As of September, Central Hudson had 28,124 residential customers with an average of $1,459 in unpaid arrears from before May 1, and 4,623 small businesses averaging $1,500, according to the PSC.
Most of the credits, $571 million, will be paid for by surcharges on electric and gas bills (see chart). The utilities also agreed to forgo recovery of $101 million of the money they borrowed to cover shortfalls when the state imposed a moratorium on shut-offs as unpaid bills ballooned, said Joseph Jenkins, a representative for Central Hudson.
The spending is expected to wipe out arrears for 75 percent of the more than 478,000 households and 56,000 small businesses in New York state that are estimated to be eligible, according to the PSC.
Because the credits are automatic, customers are not required to take action. But Central Hudson will notify ratepayers before the payments are issued, said Jenkins.
“Central Hudson is already working to implement the programming needed to administer these credits,” he said. “Our goal is to issue them as quickly as possible.”
The program also gives residents who had their service terminated in 2022 because of unpaid bills the opportunity to have service restored if they act before June 30. The utilities also will suspend, until March 1, residential cutoffs while the credits are being applied.
As it did when the program for low-income residents was approved, the PSC highlighted the surge in unpaid bills triggered by the pandemic, which led to mass layoffs when many businesses closed to prevent the spread of infections and spending declined as people sheltered at home.
People with the lowest incomes were not the only ones feeling the crunch. The number of other residents and small businesses with unpaid bills older than 60 days grew from 665,000 before the pandemic to nearly 951,000 by April 2022, according to the working group. Their arrears also spiked, from $794 million to over $2.4 billion by May.
Without assistance for customers, between 40 percent and 60 percent of the arrears would go unpaid, according to the working group’s analysis.
“Hundreds of thousands of fixed- and moderate-income ratepayers also needed help with their electric and gas bills,” said Laurie Wheelock, executive director and counsel for the Public Utility Law Project in Albany. “Inaction was simply not an option.”
The same imperatives drove the program for low-income ratepayers. That initiative, hammered out by the working group and approved by New York’s Public Service Commission in June, targeted more than 320,000 residents enrolled in the utility companies’ Energy Affordability Programs.
State funding covered $250 million of that program, with $181 million funded by surcharges on ratepayers’ bills and $36 million paid by Central Hudson and the state’s other electric and gas companies.
According to the PSC, that program has assisted nearly 311,000 residential Energy Affordability Program customers with one-time credits totaling $464 million.