The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is preparing to launch a massive debt relief program this month to help hundreds of thousands of customers who were impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic and are struggling with unpaid bills.
The utility says it plans to use approximately $300 million in economic relief funds to help reduce amounts owed — an in certain cases eliminated entirely — by more than 250,000 qualifying customers.
Officials are touting the initiative as the city’s largest-ever debt assistant effort for utility customers, according to a DWP news release.
The city’s plan involves utilizing a mix of state, federal and local funds to help cash-strapped residents who are faced with mounting DWP bills.
Of the money being distributed, the vast majority — roughly $285 million — is expected to come from the state, which earmarked the pandemic relief funds specifically for municipal utilities, the release stated.
Those funds will be used to help pay off overdue water and electric bills between the period of March 4, 2020, and June 15, 2021, and are primarily geared toward customers who experienced pandemic-related pay cuts and job losses.
“COVID-19 has dealt a devastating blow to our residents, impacting their livelihoods and undermining their economic security, and it’s our responsibility to help them weather this crisis,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “No one who is struggling to make ends meet should face further hardship, and this new program will deliver essential financial relief to help hardworking Angelenos get back on their feet.”
At the direction of Garcetti and the L.A. City Council, DWP will spend an additional $15 million to further help customers who were late on payments before or after the state’s eligibility period.
As many as 80,000 customers in the low-income discount program will get up to an additional $500 in debt relief, according to the release.
The state’s pandemic relief funds will be made available in the coming weeks and customers won’t need to apply to receive debt relief assistance. Instead, a credit will appear on the utility bills for customers with qualifying past-due balances, officials said.
Those who continue to owe money to DWP after the credits are applied will also be eligible for more financial aid, including extended repayment plans.
To that end, DWP this month will start offering expanded utility bill payments options to those who need long-term assistance, giving them further time to pay down overdue bills without incurring interest. The utility’s Low Income and Lifeline discount program will extend the repayment period for participants from two years to up to four.
Other qualifying customers will get three years to pay down past due balances, whereas they previously only had one, the utility added.
Customers who can’t afford their bills will also have more time to pay them off before their services are shut off, as the Board of Water and Power Commissioners voted last week to extend a utility shutoff moratorium to March 31, 2022.
DWP customers who may qualify for the utility’s low-income discount program are asked to visit www.ladwp.com/financialassistance.