Legislature: Utility Relief And Affordability Bill Advances In Senate

HOUSE DEMOCRATS NEWS

Legislation providing financially-struggling New Mexicans with COVID-19 relief on utility bills, including electricity, gas, water, and wastewater services, as well as addressing the long-term affordability of these essential services, passed its first Senate committee today.  

House Bill 206: The Utility Affordability and Relief Act is sponsored by Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos), Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D-Las Cruces), Rep. Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe), Rep. Angelica Rubio (D-Las Cruces) and Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-Albuquerque). This bill establishes two programs: 1) the Utility Bill Relief Program, to create repayment programs and credits for those who fell behind on utility payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2) the Community Energy Efficiency Development Block Grant to address, in the long-term, the financial burden of energy costs suffered by low-income households in New Mexico. 

This bill gives utility customers who have accrued arrears due to being financially impacted by the pandemic an opportunity to repay that debt with dignity. Those who owe back payments will get two months to pay back each month of arrears, and those who are low-income will have half of their arrears forgiven.  

“House Bill 206 provides debt relief to our most vulnerable New Mexicans who have been financially impacted during the pandemic. With meager unemployment checks or no income at all, so many people have told me they are having to make the toughest of choices about whether to pay rent, buy groceries, or pay their utility bills,” said Rep. Ortez. “But it isn’t just a COVID-19 relief bill. HB 206 also sets us on a path to bring down the cost of these essential household services for low-income New Mexicans all across the state in the long term, and establishes a fund that empowers local governments and tribal entities to implement energy efficiency programs in their communities.” 

“The partial arrears forgiveness program in HB 206 provides a way to keep tens of thousands of New Mexican families connected to essential utilities while they get back on their feet. Otherwise, if customers cannot pay both their monthly and arrears payments after the moratorium ends, which will be especially hard for those currently unemployed or working reduced hours, their services will be disconnected,” said RepFerrary. “This legislation also more broadly improves utility affordability, reduces the energy burden, and increases utility access for low-income New Mexicans.”  

“When the pandemic began, I made a promise to my constituents and the people of New Mexico who were suffering from financial instability, that we would implement programs, set up funds, and do everything we possibly could as leaders in this state to ensure that everyday folks were made whole and kept safe in their homes,” said Rep. Romero. “This important bill helps with the current crisis, by doing what 20 other states have already done to assist those with utility arrears, and also sets up a long-term fund to ensure that utility companies get paid, and families do not lose their connections. Our state is tied for the second highest poverty rate in the nation, and we must protect our most vulnerable residents through measures like HB 206.” 

“I remember receiving disconnection letters in the mail growing up, not because my parents were inadequate, but because like many New Mexicans, they were just trying to make ends meet,” said Rep. Rubio. “Too often, our low-income communities are labeled as ‘lazy’ or ‘not working hard enough,’ which is patently false. HB 206 is an example of how we correct course as a state to help our financially struggling communities and is the type of meaningful legislation that made me want to run for office.”  

HB 206 passed the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee with a 7-3 vote, and will be heard next in the Senate Finance Committee.  

Members of the public can track legislation on the New Mexico Legislature website, access committee meetings and House floor sessions via the Webcasts tab, or participate by Zoom to provide public comment on committee hearings. During the 2021 Legislative Session, the House of Representatives is focused on passing critical legislation while protecting the health and safety of the public, the staff, and the legislators.