SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — More than 350,000 San Diego County households were at least 30 days late on their SDG&E bills in March, the state Public Utilities Commission reports.
The 356,000 households behind on their payments represent 26.7 percent of the utility's residential customers, an uptick from the 24.1 percent late a year earlier.
"They have to decide between pay the bills or buy food," said Ramon Toscano, a Vista resident who is several hundred dollars behind on his electric bills. "Minimum pay is only $1 a year. They raise you $1, and the rent is $200."
The nonprofit National Energy Assistance Directors Association is projecting the lowest income earning families could pay as much as 38 percent of their income on gas and utilities.
"California had a very strong moratorium on shutoffs during the pandemic, and so for some families taht were struggling to pay other bills, they put off paying their home energy bill, and that amount that they owed has caught up," said Mark Wolfe, the organization's executive director.
SDG&E residential electricity rates rose 7.6 percent in January. The utility says that's largely due to soaring wholesale gas prices impacting the cost of electric generation.
While state power-cut off protections expired in September, SDG&E says it has not disconnected any residential customers. The company says it's reaching out to residents directly to spread the word on assistance programs that can help, while offering flexible payment plans.
An SDG&E spokeswoman warned customers to be aware of scammers calling to say they'll cut the power immediately if bills are not paid at once. She said SDG&E never does that, but has seen an uptick in scam attempts given the high bills.