By Miriam Raftery
October 2, 2017 (San Diego) — Residential disconnections for nonpayment of gas and electric bills have gone up sharply in California, from 547,000 in 2010 to 816,000 in 2015. According to Senate Bill 598, a bill authored by San Diego Senator Ben Hueso, gas and electric service shut-offs threaten the health of two million people a year, causing significant impacts on infants, children, the elderly, low-income families, communities of color, the disabled and persons with life-threatening medical conditions.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously with strong bipartisan support and has now been signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. The measure aims to reduce cut-off of utility to service due to nonpayment, adding special protections for people with medical needs.
It requires the California Public Utilities Commission to develop policies, rules or regulations aimed at reducing gas and electric service disconnections by the state’s four largest utility companies by 2024. The CPUC must convene public health officials, consumer advocates and organizations representing low-income communities to help develop the new rules.
The bill prohibits a gas or electric company from disconnecting service to a residential customer receiving a medical baseline allowance who is financially unable to pay for service if they meet certain criteria, such as those on life support equipment, in hospice care at home, or who has a life-threatening condition that a medical professional certifies requires gas or electric service to sustain life or prevent deterioration of a medical condition.
The CPUC would also have to consider impacts of proposed rate increases on disconnections for nonpayments.
The Commission is required to submit annual reports to the Legislature on the number of residential gas and electric disconnections, participation by customers in rate assistance plans and medical baseline programs.