National Grid on Tuesday filed a customer assistance proposal with its New York regulator that would provide up to $50 million in financial assistance to support its most economically vulnerable residential customers as well as businesses that are struggling because of the pandemic’s financial impact. The company sought input from the New York State Department of Public Service staff, customer advocates and other stakeholders to design the programs and determine how best to allocate the assistance to those most in need.
“Six months into the pandemic, the economic recovery remains relatively flat and unemployment rates are increasing sharply in the COVID-19 recession. National Grid’s relief package offers an important opportunity to provide our customers with financial assistance to lessen their hardship beyond what we currently offer through our existing COVID-19 programs and services,” said John Bruckner, National Grid’s New York president.
He noted funding for the programs will be targeted to customers who are in arrears and/or unable to pay their energy bills due to financial hardship stemming from the pandemic.
“By redeploying existing customer funds to programs carefully designed to address identified economic hardships, we believe our proposed programs will help with the financial difficulties currently being experienced by our customers,” Bruckner said.
Programs Offer Additional Support for Economically Vulnerable Residential Customers
National Grid’s proposal includes up to $25 million in funding for two new programs for residential customers enrolled in the company’s Energy Assistance Program. Participants in the EAP are among the company’s most vulnerable customers, facing financial hardships that could require them to choose between paying their energy bills and other necessities. The company believes bill credits are the best tool for providing immediate assistance to help these customers manage their energy costs.
Under the proposal, EAP customers would receive an immediate, one-time bill credit on both the gas and electricity portions of their bills.
Customers enrolled in EAP who also have a deferred payment agreement will receive up to 12 monthly arrears incentive payments if they honor that agreement, which requires paying their current bill and a monthly installment toward their past due balance.
If there are any funds remaining in this program after 12 months, the balance will be shared as a final one-time bill credit for all EAP customers.
Enhanced Economic Development Programs
For National Grid’s business customers, the company’s proposal includes up to $25 million for a new arrears forgiveness plan and two enhanced economic development grant programs.
Upon implementation, distressed business customers who enroll in a deferred payment agreement under the program’s guidelines, will receive a bill credit on a portion of their arrears if they are current on their DPA.
These customers may receive a second bill credit on a portion of their arrears upon completion of their DPA.
A new COVID-19 recovery assistance grant program that offers grants to large commercial and industrial customers for eligible recovery-related expenses, including personal protective equipment, environmental health and safety measures, interest expenses associated with pandemic-related loans, and machinery and equipment costs.
Further enhancing the existing manufacturing productivity program so that qualifying small- and medium-sized business can apply for funds to support COVID-19 recovery and future resiliency, including business continuity planning, enterprise risk management, and support for employee/environmental health and safety.
The funding would remain available through August 2021, or until program funding is depleted.
Bruckner noted that, while New York state and the federal government have taken measures to assist residents and businesses during this unprecedented time, the duration of the pandemic is unknown, and the impacts are difficult to predict.
“We believe that additional assistance is necessary for our customers. Our proposal is a way for us to provide crucial near-term relief,” he said.
Continuing Customer Commitment
National Grid remains focused on providing solutions to customers who are suffering from the pandemic’s financial and personal impacts. Some of the immediate actions the company took at the onset of the pandemic to help customers include:
√ Donating nearly $1 million across New York to support hunger relief, human services agencies and others.
√ Pausing residential disconnections and fees, late payment charges and collections-related activities and offering flexible payment plans.
√ Launching extensive customer outreach through emails, letters, traditional and digital media, webinars, and calls to provide information on managing energy bills, offer flexible payment and billing options, and provide details on financial assistance and energy savings programs. The company encourages customers who are struggling to pay their bills to contact it for assistance as soon as possible.
√ Offering the expertise of consumer advocates to provide crisis intervention support for customers, working closely with county social services and community assistance organizations.
√ Providing enhanced economic development support to New York businesses producing critical pandemic supplies.
√ Additional details on National Grid’s pandemic preparedness, associated actions and a customer Q&A can be found at www.ngrid.com/covid-19.