(Reuters) - New York state will forgive $672 million worth of unpaid gas and electric utility bills from the pandemic era for about half a million customers, in what the governor's office said was "the largest utility customer financial assistance program in state history."
The relief is expected to prevent potential service terminations for more than 478,000 residential customers and about 56,000 small businesses, while avoiding significant downgrades to their credit, the office of Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement.
The debt-forgiveness program by the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) will give one-time credits to all residential non-low-income customers and small-commercial customers for any utility arrears through May 1, 2022.
Utilities provided a record $101 million in this round of pandemic debt relief, following a $36 million contribution to a similar $567 million program in June last year to help low-income customers pay off past electric and gas bills, the statement said.
Hochul also launched a pilot program that guarantees its low-income participants will not pay over 6% of their incomes on electricity, and set aside an additional $200 million in discounts on electric bills for over 800,000 New York state residents who make less than $75,000 who are ineligible under the current discount program.
Last week, Hochul said during her 2023 State of the State address that New York will implement a program that sets an annual cap on pollution throughout its economy to lower emissions while aiming to bring in more than $1 billion a year.
(Reporting by Deep Vakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Matthew Lewis)