DENVER, CO – The House today advanced legislation on a preliminary vote to significantly boost low-income utility bill payment assistance across Colorado.
“Too many Coloradans don’t have enough resources right now to make ends meet and are at risk of falling further behind as our economy recovers,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood. “Our direct assistance programs are badly underfunded and rely on a volatile funding mechanism that isn’t meeting the needs of our communities. This bill will help Colorado build back stronger and forge a more inclusive recovery by boosting direct utility bill payment assistance to low income Coloradans.”
HB21-1105 creates a sustainable funding source and expands eligibility for low-income assistance programs. The existing funding mechanism for low-income utility assistance is volatile and is not keeping up with the need in Colorado communities for direct assistance. Dozens of counties receive less than 50 percent of their requested energy assistance funds. While exempting low-income customers, the bill directs utilities to collect a $1 fee on electricity customers and a $1 fee on gas customers, which will be used to finance direct utility bill payment assistance and weatherization retrofits to low-income households. The bill also creates a mechanism for cross enrollment with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to maximize the number of eligible Colorado recipients. It also allows water utilities to collect a charge to finance direct water utility assistance for low-income customers.
Even before the pandemic hit, one in four Colorado households struggled to pay monthly utility bills. In the last year, Energy Outreach Colorado, which has received federal and state stimulus funding through recent legislation, paid $13 million in bills for 25,000 households, indicating the need for a sustainable funding source. Among the tens of thousands the energy assistance nonprofit serves are seniors, Coloradans with disabilities, and essential frontline workers.