August 4, 2000
San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) announced that an additional agency telephone number has been set up for callers requesting information about the Summer Utility Relief Fund. Low- and fixed-income customers may now call 619/542-7405 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The fund, which is being administered in conjunction with the United Way and Catholic Charities, is for customers with low or fixed incomes, or who are experiencing a temporary financial hardship that makes them unable to pay their bills, such as a serious family illness or job loss. The fund is designed to pay half of a customer's bill, with a maximum benefit of $100.
SDG&E and its parent company, Sempra Energy, launched the Summer Utility Relief Fund July 20 with $100,000 in seed money from corporate funds. Since them, the relief fund has received pledges from electricity market participants that raise the total to more than $450,000. To encourage future contributions, SDG&E and Sempra Energy have pledged an additional $1 in corporate funding for every $4 the market participants contribute.
"By increasing capacity to handle inquiries about the Summer Utility Relief Fund, we hope that this fund can get help quickly to the people who need it most in San Diego and southern Orange counties," said Pam Fair, vice president of customer services for SDG&E. "The market participants' donations to the fund are encouraging, and will help expand the options available to provide some much-need relief from high electricity prices from the California Power Exchange."
Fair added that she hopes more power generators and marketers contribute to the fund, both to demonstrate their community commitment and because they are deriving increased profits from the higher electricity prices SDG&E customers are paying.
The United Way will continue to handle some requests for assistance from the fund as one of many programs available through its INFO LINE; however, the 619/542-7405 number is dedicated exclusively to the Summer Utility Relief Fund.
"The United Way supported SDG&E with its INFO LINE to help the utility put this program into action quickly and help customers as soon as possible," said Sara Matta, director of information and referral for the United Way in San Diego. "We believe that this new telephone line will help alleviate our heavy call volumes and make the process much smoother for customers in need."
The company also said that 10 new service representatives have been added to handle high call volumes and assistance is available in Spanish.
Agency call center personnel assess each customer's needs and match them with appropriate nonprofit agencies that can provide help. Qualified customers are referred to participating nonprofit organizations that issue vouchers that customers can submit to SDG&E for payment of a portion of their gas and electric bills. Catholic Charities acts as the program's fiscal agent, paying the funds to SDG&E on behalf of customers.