Advocates for older New Yorkers and low-income residents made what could be a final push on Tuesday to include aid for the more than 330,000 people who are behind on their energy bills in a state budget agreement. 

The groups, including AARP New York and the Public Utility Law Project, are seeking at least $500 million in support for customers as utility bills have sharply increased this past winter. 

“Any amount short of $500 million to address utility arrears will leave New Yorkers in the dark,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. “The alarming spikes in electric, natural gas and home heating oil bills are crushing the wallets of millions of low-income and middle-class New Yorkers and plunging many deeper into debt each day. Lawmakers must end the utility arrears crisis, or it will be a long time before many New Yorker fully recover from the pandemic.”

All told, utility arrears for energy bills account for a combined $1.7 billion when factoring in low-income customers as well as those with moderate incomes and other residential customers who are not enrolled in low-income programs. 

One in five people in the state, including 331,992 customers who are enrolled in energy assistance programs, are 60 days or more behind on their electric or gas bills, according to data from regulators. 

“We know that 331,000 of New York’s most financially vulnerable households are at risk of shutoffs beginning in late May and extending through June into the Fall,” said Public Utility Law Project Executive Director Richard Berkley. “What we don’t know are how many more low- and fixed-income are at in danger of shutoffs of heat or electric, water, and telephone and internet services since the State does not comprehensively track these customer arrears and collection activities. We will continue to advocate to make certain all of them can be enrolled in low-income utility programs so that the State has sufficient public data to help all vulnerable households rather than only a lucky few.”