ITHACA, N.Y.—A recent report from the New York State Comptroller’s Office found that over the course of the pandemic the total amount of arrears owed to utilities more than doubled, reaching over $1.8 billion distributed among 1.2 million customers across New York.
In an effort to help dig people out of mounting debt to their utility providers, New York State has launched a program to assist customers with their energy bills.
The state’s new Energy Assistance Program (EAP) is making $567 million available to low-income customers to pay down their electric and gas bills. The program is being administered by the major utilities in New York State. Enrolled customers enrolled will receive a one-time credit that will eliminate unpaid utility bills that have accrued up until May 1, 2022. But the window to enroll is tight, closing after Dec. 31, 2022.
While the economic recovery from the pandemic is well in motion, the progress has been uneven and that’s particularly visible in the arrears that residential customers owe their utilities.
The Comptroller’s findings show that the increase in arrears owed to utilities was not really due to an increased number of customers falling behind on their bills, but a group of customers that had already missed payments falling further behind.
The percent increase in the number of customers in arrears in March 2020 versus March 2022 was minimal in some cases, like with New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) which increased by less than a percent.
NYSEG, which services predominantly rural markets including the Ithaca area, only has about 3% of the total utility arrears owed to it. In terms of its customer base, NYSEG is one of the medium-sized gas and electric utilities in the state, with about 1,028,699 customers. Around 9.2% of NYSEG customers owe the utility company, and customers owe on average $603 in arrears to the utility.
The Public Service Commission’s website lists the means for customers to sign up for EAP with all of the state’s major utilities.