Utility payment extensions on the rise

CITY HALL — Payment extensions granted to Glendale Water & Power customers increased last year as residents continued to struggle to pay their utility bills, officials said this week.

The utility granted 24,547 extensions last fiscal year — a 5% increase compared with the fiscal year ending in 2009, and a 21% increase to the previous year, according to a report Monday to the Glendale Water & Power Commission.

That's about one extension for every three of the utility's 80,000 customers, although individual customers can receive as many as six extensions per year for each bimonthly bill.

Bills for water and electric service average about $275 for two months, according to a city report.

"We are really working with customers for them to get some help on their utility bills," said Tami Vallier, the utility's customer services administrator.

The increase in payment extensions is a driving factor behind an approximately 20% drop in service disconnections last year compared with the previous year, Vallier said. About 4,000 customers had their service shut off last year, compared with nearly 5,000 the year before.

Customer service representatives are also trained to refer customers seeking an extension to the utility's low-income assistance program, as well as local nonprofit organizations for additional help in paying their bills, Vallier said.

Salvation Army Glendale provides three $50 vouchers per month to local households struggling to make ends meet, said Rick White, director of social services for the nonprofit.

Similar to demand at the organization's food pantry, White said he has noticed a major increase in calls for utility bill assistance in recent years, with many people requesting help for the first time.

"We turn away far more people than we are able to help," he said. "It's hard for us because we would love to be able to help. It's just so many people that need help, we aren't able to."

About 5,500 households have enrolled in the utility's Glendale Care program since it started accepting applicants in 2009, said Craig Kuennen, public benefits marketing manager for the utility.

An additional 4,300 seniors are enrolled in the Senior Care program, which is no longer accepting new applicants, who are being referred to Glendale Care.

Residents who meet low-income requirements can receive a $10 monthly discount on utility bills through the program.

Kuennen projected as many as 18,000 utility customers meet the program requirements, which means thousands of eligible customers aren't receiving the discounts.

Glendale Water & Power Commissioner Zanku Armenian recommended that utility officials translate marketing information about the program into other languages.

"There is going to be a percentage of low income [customers] who have language barriers," Armenian said. "They may never even know this exists."

For more information on the Glendale Care program, call Glendale Water & Power customer service at (818) 548-3300.

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