Skip to the bottom to see actions you can take to join the fight!
It feels like a lifetime ago when the COVID pandemic hit and the SCOPE team was rapidly trying to figure out how to take care of our own during this time of crisis. Our organizers took to the phones to check in with community members and see how SCOPE could support them. To our surprise, but it probably should have been expected, one concern that kept coming up was utilities.
Many community members said they were unable to pay for water and power, with bills ranging from as low as $60 to as high as $2,000. We have heard stories of members choosing to prioritize not using their utilities over their own health and comfort in fear of increasing costs. While LADWP’s commitment to not shut off utilities for non-payment and to not charge late fees was a welcome relief, some thought that this moratorium meant that they would not have to pay at all rather than face growing utility debt at the end of it. In conversations with partner organizations, we found that this same issue in South LA was also coming up for families in Wilmington and Pacoima.
In response to our communities’ needs, SCOPE, LAANE, and the RePower LA Coalition launched a campaign in August to demand that LADWP erase utility debt for low-income ratepayers and invest in equity and accountability. Since 2012, RePower LA has fought for affordable rates, clean energy, and family-sustaining careers at LADWP for communities that have been historically underserved, so this campaign is a direct extension of our ongoing fight for utility justice.
We know that the pandemic is not where this utility debt issue starts. It stems from a long history at LADWP of high electricity rates that overburden working-class communities of color and underinvestment in accessible and comprehensive low-income assistance programs. By itself, the moratorium only delays the inevitable and assumes that economic recovery will be quick and equitable. We are also already seeing that things will get worse due to climate change, such as more severe and more frequent heat waves and wildfire events. LADWP is the largest public utility in the country! It belongs to us, the ratepayers, and we demand that it meet the needs of impacted communities during this pandemic and beyond.
By The Numbers
Pre-COVID, 1 in 7 households with LADWP were having trouble with their utility bills and using some kind of LADWP payment assistance.
In a recent survey of over 3,200 South LA residents and workers:
- 45% of respondents said that someone in their household was unemployed or underemployed.
- Over 47% of respondents said difficulty paying rent or utilities was their primary concern.
In an in-depth survey of 335 South LA residents and workers:
- 1 in 4 Latinx and 1 in 5 Black respondents said that difficulty paying utility bills was a concern.
- Over 35% of respondents identified programs that help save electricity costs or provide renewable electricity as a priority need.
Where We Are At Now
After two months of organizing at several LA City Council meetings and LADWP Board of Commissioners meetings, RePower LA finally has momentum on three opportunities to address utility debt and increase equity at our public utility.
- COVID-19 Utility Grant Program: As an immediate solution, the City has directed $50 million in CARES Act funds to assist LADWP customers who have experienced financial hardships due to COVID.
- Fresh Start Program: By the end of the year, LADWP aims to put in place a program to relieve Angelenos of their debt and stabilize bill payments for low-income customers.
- Low-Income Discount Program and Lifeline Program Improvements: LADWP has also committed to strengthen its low-income programs, which have been historically under-enrolled due to inaccessibility and minimal investment in community outreach.
We are thankful for the leadership of City Council President Nury Martinez and LADWP Board President Cynthia McClain-Hill, who listened to our demands and joined us in pushing for solutions that can meet our communities’ needs. LADWP has the opportunity to set a real example for other LA-serving utilities and the rest of the country.
What You Can Do
- We still need you to speak out at the LADWP Board meeting on October 27 at 10am to voice support for equitable, accessible, and targeted relief programs for low-income ratepayers. (Meeting info will be available at least 72 hours in advance.)
- Have you signed and shared our petition to LADWP yet? Add your signature and share with other LADWP ratepayers to elevate our community demands.
- You can also help shape the implementation of these relief measures by sharing how you have been impacted by utility debt and your experience with LADWP low-income programs. Send us an email or engage with us on social media!
If you represent an organization, you can endorse and join our RePower LA erase utility debt campaign.