Long Beach Utilities Commissioners will meet Thursday to discuss the formation of a $7.5 million relief program that could benefit all account holders, many of whom saw their utility bills spike over the past two months due to the historic increase in the cost of natural gas.
The emergency meeting was called after the City Council asked the Utilities Department to create a fund and offered $1.5 million in additional utility users’ tax revenue, which increases with the cost of utility services, to start the program.
While natural gas prices dropped by about 66% in February, the price of the commodity is still higher than it was in November, when prices begin to shoot upward.
Residents reported several hundreds of dollars being added to their typical monthly bills, with some saying they would have to cut back spending in other areas to afford it. The city and Long Beach Transit, both of which have natural-gas-powered vehicles in their fleet, reported similar increases, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs to their budgets.
An agenda item for the commission’s meeting is proposing adding another $6 million in funds generated by a separate fee charged to customers under Assembly Bill 32, the state’s cap and trade program that generates funding to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead of being transferred to the city, city management has agreed to allow the department to use the $6 million on a one-time basis to expand the pool of people who can receive credits from the department.
The $6 million could allow the department to issue all account holders a one-time credit of $45.
The proposed program would have four pods of customers, each with varying levels of aid they could qualify for. Low-income seniors or those with disabilities could get a $200 credit in addition to the $45 all account holders would get.
Low-income customers could qualify for an additional $150 credit, while other households that self-certify that they need financial assistance could get a separate $100 credit.
The department estimates that about 2,000 low-income senior or disabled households, 3,000 low-income households and roughly 5,750 others in need could be helped with the available funding outside of the flat $45 credits all accounts would receive.
In order to qualify for the larger credits, households will have to be enrolled in the department’s low-income discount programs by March 31. The programs provide year-round benefits like a 20% discount on gas charges and a $5 monthly credit on the water and sewer portion of the bill.
Low income-seniors and disabled households can also be exempted from paying the utility users’ tax on any portion of their utility bill.
The commission is scheduled to meet Thursday, Feb. 9, at 10 a.m. at the Utilities Department headquarters located at 1800 E. Wardlow Road.