Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) today announced $10 million in shareholder funding to help customers with bill assistance and to bolster community resources for those who may be struggling financially.
The company committed $5 million in shareholder funding to the Gas Assistance Fund, a program administered by the United Way that provides income-qualified customers with one-time grants to help pay their natural gas bills. The contribution is the largest in the fund's 40-year history and will help the United Way expand access to the program to thousands of additional Southern Californians this winter.
SoCalGas also announced it will contribute $4 million from its donor advised fund to relaunch its popular Fueling Our Communities program, a collaboration with local food banks and nonprofits that has provided free meals and groceries to thousands of Californians facing food insecurity since 2020.
In addition, SoCalGas will contribute $1 million in aid from its donor advised fund to small restaurant owners through the Restaurants Care Resilience Fund, a fund that was started in 2021 to help small restaurants with improvements, upgrades, employee retention and to manage debt, losses and rising costs.
"This winter's unprecedented natural gas prices, on top of already high inflation, have been a real hardship for many Southern Californians, especially our most vulnerable, our seniors, and people facing difficult circumstances," said SoCalGas CEO, Scott Drury. "Thanks to the incredible work of the United Way, and the network of tireless, nonprofit leaders who support our work in the community, we will be able to help many more of our neighbors, families, and small businesses in cities and towns across Southern California this winter."
"These contributions will provide much-needed relief for some of our most vulnerable residents at a time when cold temperatures make it harder to turn down the heat," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. "As we learn more about the West Coast market conditions that led to unusually high bills, proactive partnerships like this one are addressing the immediate very real needs of our community. I continue looking forward to what soon may be a return to more normal natural gas prices."
EXPANDED ACCESS TO GAS ASSISTANCE FUND
SoCalGas's latest contribution to the Gas Assistance Fund will help the United Way expand income eligibility for the program and increase the grant amount available to each qualified customer from $100 to up to $400 for the remainder of the 2023 program. Additionally, income-eligible older adults (55+) and those facing certain financial hardships may be eligible for extra grant funding.
"Over the last four decades, the Gas Assistance Fund has helped hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Californians who face difficult choices during cold months between staying warm and other basic necessities like food and medicine," said Elise Buik, president & CEO at United Way of Greater Los Angeles. "This historic contribution will help the United Way dramatically expand our reach and allow thousands of individuals, older adults, and families across our region to remain healthy and housed this winter."
FUELING OUR COMMUNITIES - 2023
The Fueling our Communities Program began in 2020 as a collaboration between SoCalGas and five regional nonprofits to provide free meals to individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the program's first summer, SoCalGas and its partners provided more than 140,000 meals to 40,000 individuals from underserved communities across Southern California. With its latest $4 million contribution, SoCalGas aims to significantly expand the Fueling our Communities program via new and existing partnerships with food banks and nonprofits with a focus on serving families and seniors in need.
SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESSES
The Restaurants Care Resilience Fund was started in 2021 to help small restaurants with improvements, upgrades, employee retention and to manage debt, losses and rising costs. SoCalGas has supported the fund since its inception.
"What started as a lifeline to restaurants during the pandemic has grown into a robust fund to assist small restaurants with grants to strengthen their businesses and invest in their people," said Alycia Harshfield, executive director of the California Restaurant Foundation. "SoCalGas' incredible generosity, commitment, and leadership has a lasting positive ripple effect, and we are proud to partner with them again to make such a meaningful impact."
MARKET CONDITIONS IMPROVE
After a significant drop in February from January's unprecedented natural gas commodity prices, market prices for March 2023 usage are currently forecasted to be significantly lower than February's prices. In addition, the restoration of service to an out-of-state pipeline, which has been offline for two years, is expected to increase supply capacity to the Southwest. Consistent with regulatory requirements, SoCalGas will file March core procurement prices (rates) with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) at the end of February.
The core procurement rate reflects the price SoCalGas pays for natural gas for residential and business customers. That rate changes each month. SoCalGas does not set the price for natural gas. Instead, natural gas prices are determined by national and regional markets. SoCalGas buys natural gas in those markets on behalf of residential and small business customers, and the cost of buying that gas is billed to those customers with no markup.
WHAT CAUSED PRICES TO SPIKE IN JANUARY?
According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), a number of factors have contributed to higher natural gas commodity prices:
Widespread, below-normal temperatures on much of the West Coast, including Washington and Oregon;
High natural gas demand for heating by customers in areas with below normal temperatures;
Reduced natural gas supplies to the West Coast from Canada and the Rocky Mountains;
Reduced interstate pipeline capacity to the West Coast because of pipeline maintenance activities in West Texas (the out of state pipeline mentioned earlier in this news release); and
Low natural gas storage levels on the West Coast.
According to the EIA, the U.S. set a natural gas consumption daily record on Dec. 23, 2022, further exacerbating supply and demand challenges.
Several experts discussed these market conditions at a California Public Utilities Commission public hearing earlier this month. Video of that proceeding is available here.
IS ADDITIONAL HELP AVAILABLE?
In light of unprecedented market conditions, the California Public Utilities Commission voted earlier this month to accelerate the California Climate Credit. As a result, SoCalGas customers will receive a credit of $50.77 in their February or March bill, depending on their billing cycle.
In addition, SoCalGas continues to encourage customers to take advantage of programs and services that can help manage usage and save costs.
Eligible customers may sign up for a Level Pay Plan (LPP), for example, which averages their annual natural gas use and costs over 12 months. There are also financial assistance programs for eligible customers who are experiencing hardships.
SoCalGas' free Ways to Save tool may also help customers with energy savings options through a personalized savings plan that offers a household energy analysis, customized energy-efficiency recommendations, bill comparisons, and energy usage comparisons that could help save on natural gas bills. Customers can also sign up for weekly Bill Tracker Alerts to monitor natural gas consumption, take steps to reduce usage, and avoid bill surprises.
Customers can visit socalgas.com/ManageHigherBills for more information on the factors that lead to higher bills and ways we can help.