SACRAMENTO – The State of California is expected to receive an additional $25 billion, and Republicans want to use that surplus money to pay the billions of unpaid water, utility and internet bills. They also asked for assistance for pharmacies that are critical in the delivery of hands-on patient care, including Covid vaccine shots.
“Payment plans may help those with jobs. Moratoriums will delay the debt. These patchwork remedies, however, are not sustainable solutions to lift low-income Californians out of their growing piles of debt,” stated in a letter by Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama), Vice Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield).
Below is their letter in full:
March 3, 2021
The Honorable Nancy Skinner
Senator, District 9
Senate Budget Chair
State Capitol, Room
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Chair Skinner,
The pandemic has disproportionally hit low-income households the hardest. Disparities in government assistance need to be fixed to achieve equality for all Californians to help prevent an economic and health crisis. Government has focused on stimulus checks, rent moratorium, mortgage forbearance and tax relief. Low-income Californians, however, are drowning in water, electricity, internet and other utility debt. Many of these taxpayers depend on small independent community pharmacies for in-patient healthcare, which are facing financial challenges and need relief.
The Governor’s January Budget reflected an unexpected revenue of $15 billion. In early February, updated information indicated that actual revenue received through January showed still more unanticipated revenues of $10 billion, $4 billion of which is likely to be discretionary after constitutional required payments are made to schools and reserves.
It is in the best interest of taxpayers that these one-time surpluses be spent on the forgiveness of utility debts, and on small pharmacies who provide healthcare to underserved communities.
Low-income Californians are facing both long-term financial and public health concerns.
Californians owe billions in utility bills.
- An estimated 1.6 million households owe nearly $1 billion on their water bills.
- Almost nine million have not been able to pay their electric or gas bills in full according to the Public Utilities Commission. The arrearages exceed $1 billion.
- Southern California Edison customers are facing $245 million in bills as of December 2020.
- Unknown unpaid internet bills.
For many underserved communities in urban and rural areas, the state’s independent pharmacies are critical in the delivery of hands-on patient care, including Covid vaccine shots. The Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) is demanding approximately $207 million from pharmacies – many are family owned - from what DHCS considers overpayment. Without assistance, these independent small businesses may have to shut down resulting in compromised healthcare for millions.
Payment plans may help those with jobs. Moratoriums will delay the debt. These patchwork remedies, however, are not sustainable solutions to lift low-income Californians out of their growing piles of debt.
Utility debt and potential closure of community pharmacies will be a public health disaster. With this unexpected influx of money, the State of California has an opportunity to further help everyday Californians weather this crisis.
Thank you for your consideration, and we hope you join us in helping everyday Californians.
Senator, District 4
Senate Budget Vice Chair
Senator, District 16
Senate Budget Committee