San Diego (KGTV) -- More than 300 thousand San Diego County residents have fallen behind on the electric bills amid the pandemic, says a new report from the state Public Utilities Commission.
The amount equates to about 22 percent of SDGE's residential customers, who collectively owe more than $145.3 million to the utility. The state PUC recently extended a moratorium blocking disconnects through June 30, a decision SDG&E said it supports.
"If you have a family, if you have children, you're going to prioritize the needs of your household before your bills," said Barbara Pinto, a Logan Heights resident who owes SDG&E about $3,000. "People before profit, I mean, that's the way a lot of people are looking at this."
Pinto, living on a fixed income, said she tries to use appliances at off hours and devotes parts of her stimulus payments to getting caught up.
Alan Gin, economist at the University of San Diego, said the amount of people behind on bills shows the uneven impact of the pandemic.
"A lot of people at the low-end have been effected and these are people that cannot even draw on savings at this point," he said. "They have to prioritize between food and the utilities and so it’s been the utilities have been put on the back burner."
SDG&E said it is working to help impacted customers and that the loss of revenue would not impact current service levels.
"Since the beginning of this unprecedented situation we have used multiple strategies, including partnering with community-based organizations, to disseminate important information about flexible payment arrangements and a host of other customer assistance programs that SDG&E offers," the utility said in a statement. "This effort is a high priority for us because we want to ensure that our customers know how to access the utility assistance programs that they might need during these difficult times."
The 301,354 households late on their bills in January 2021 marks a roughly 10 percent increase from the 274,000 households delinquent in January 2020.
Additionally, the county recently announced that it has $100 million in assistance for qualifying individuals behind on their rent and utilities.