Colorado has reduced emissions in the electricity sector largely by shifting away from coal-fired generation towards renewables like wind and solar. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
A new Colorado law boosts funding for utility bill payment assistance for low-income residents by establishing small monthly fees on electricity and gas customers.
“Families across Colorado are struggling to keep the lights on, and our current utility assistance system is not funded well enough to help every family in need,” Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat who brought the bill, said in a written statement.
“After today, Colorado will have a sustainable funding source for our direct assistance programs that will ensure the needs of our communities are met,” he added. “There was a dire need to address this issue well before the pandemic began, and I’m very pleased we were able to take care of it this year.”
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The bipartisan bill, House Bill 21-1105, directs utilities to ultimately collect a $1 fee on electricity customers and a $1 fee on gas customers per month, which will be used to finance direct utility bill payment assistance. Low-income customers are exempt from the fee. The fee will start at 50 cents starting in October and incrementally increase until it reaches $1 after October 2023.
The bill also creates a mechanism for cross enrollment in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and allows water utilities to voluntarily collect a charge to fund utility assistance for low-income customers.
In the last year, Energy Outreach Colorado, an energy assistance nonprofit, paid $13 million in utility bills for 25,000 households after receiving federal and state stimulus funding to help meet the need in Colorado, according to a press release from the Colorado House Democrats. Prior to the pandemic, 1 in 4 Colorado households struggled to pay monthly utility bills.
Coloradans must earn less than 60% of the state median income to qualify for help through the Colorado Low-income Energy Assistance Program. Under the current eligibility guidelines, a two-person household earning less than $3,425 a month, or $41,100 a year, could use the federal utility assistance. People applying for LEAP must be permanent legal residents or U.S. citizens, or have household members who are citizens.
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