L.A. Controller Calls For Improved Oversight Of DWP Customer Billing Discounts

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Logo (LA DWP Logo)
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Logo (LA DWP Logo)

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin released a report today that recommends a broader outreach effort and analyses of the effectiveness and oversight of two utility discount programs for low-income, senior and disabled customers.
  
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power issues the discounts to customers based on eligibility.
  
“The city’s utility discount programs help low-income residents keep the lights on and water running,” Galperin said. “But the city needs to get eligible Angelenos enrolled through better outreach efforts and make sure those who already receive discounted bills remain qualified to do so. The goal of these programs is to provide financial aid to the residents in our communities who need it most.”
  
The report calls for improving oversight of the city’s Low-Income Discount Program and Lifeline Program, which are primarily administered by the DWP with assistance from the Office of Finance, Bureau of Sanitation and private utilities.
  
DWP currently markets the programs with brochures, mailers and online, but it does not use available customer billing information to identify potential participants, according to the controller.
  
Galperin also said the city hasn’t checked the eligibility of Lifeline participants in more than seven years, so it’s unclear as to how many people still qualify for the discounts. He said the lack of oversight could leave the programs vulnerable to abuses.
  
Galperin also said the city needs to use DWP billing data to better identify customers who may qualify for discounts, conduct proactive outreach to non-English-speaking residents and get other city departments to help market the programs.
  
DWP officials said that in partnership with the Office of Finance and the Bureau of Sanitation, the utility is reaching new people through social media, customer service centers and local advertising.
  
“We have also partnered with nonprofits to improve outreach, including through Cal State Northridge’s VITA free tax-preparation clinics, where low-income customers learn more about the program and can sign up,” a DWP statement says. “We have a low-income assistance team dedicated to prioritizing the needs of low-income customers and developing new ways to reach
eligible participants for all of our customer programs, including money-saving energy efficiency, water conservation, electric vehicle rebate programs that all help our customers save even more on their water and electric bills.”
  
Galperin recommended the utility focus on tracking data and metrics to evaluate how well the programs are performing and requiring the DWP to report annually to city leaders on the progress and to recertify Lifeline customers regularly to ensure they still qualify for the discounts.
  
The city controller’s office reported that in each of the last three fiscal years, the city issued an average of $72 million in financial aid to nearly 279,000 households through the two programs.
  
LIDP provides discounted power, water, and other utility services to residents of all ages with annual gross incomes of $33,820 or less.

Lifeline offers discounted fees on utility services and full exemption from utility user taxes to residents with household incomes of less than $41,800 who are at least 62 years old or permanently disabled. LIDP customers receive an average 18% discount on each bill, compared to a 31% discount with Lifeline.
  
The full report can be found online at lacontroller.org/utilitydiscounts.

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