Dec 18, 2009 1:06 PM by Ariel Wesler
California's utility companies are giving their customers an early gift this holiday season. PG&E is one of several utilities promising not to cut off electricity and gas service from now until January 4th.The move is aimed at helping those who've fallen behind on their bills.
Utility companies say the number of people having their power and gas turned off has increased in the last year.
Low-income families will benefit most from the decision. Utility companies say it's the least they can do to brighten what for many is already a difficult holiday season.
This year, they are keeping the lights on for their customers through the new year, no matter what.
"The economy is not great and we understand that for many of our customers, the holidays can be a stressful time. . .we take disconnecting any service very very seriously and we don't want to see it get to that point," said Kory Raftery with Pacific Gas and Electric.
Disconnections have soared in the last year--up 18 percent. Thousands have seen their lights go out and gas turned off. Peoples' Self-Help Housing works with many of those families along the Central Coast.
"Most of our people are on basic minimum wage or fixed incomes, so any help they can get this time of year would be very helpful to them," said Eric Michielssen, a housing counselor
But this year, even families who normally make their payments are running out of luck.
"That's the big problem is unemployment," Michielssen said.
Experts say disconnecting for even a short time can threaten health and safety.
"As soon as you know that paying your energy bill may be a challenge, we encourage you to reach out to us," Raftery said.
PG&E says it's implented similar holiday pledges in the past to give customers some relief.
Beyond the holidays, utility reps say they are working out payment plans with a record number of customers. PG&E also has a low-income program called CARE.
State Utility Commissioners also approved a three percent increase Thursday for PG&E customers in the lowest electricity brackets.
That increase will take effect in January, but will not impact anyone in the low-income program.
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