Florida Senate - 2021 SB 1860 By Senator Jones 35-01854A-21 20211860__ 1 A bill to be entitled 2 An act relating to utility customer assistance funds; 3 defining the term “utility”; requiring the Office of 4 Energy within the Department of Agriculture and 5 Consumer Services to establish an application process 6 for utilities for certain purposes related to 7 receiving funds to provide financial assistance to 8 certain residential customers; providing criteria that 9 each utility must meet to receive utility customer 10 assistance funds; specifying required elements for 11 each repayment plan offered to specified residential 12 customers; requiring each participating utility to 13 establish a separate customer utility assistance fund 14 and follow generally accepted accounting principles in 15 its recording; requiring each participating utility to 16 provide an accounting report to the Governor, the 17 President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of 18 Representatives, the Public Service Commission, and 19 the Office of Public Counsel by a specified date; 20 requiring each participating utility to use specified 21 federal funds to provide direct subsidy payments to 22 certain residential customers under certain 23 conditions; authorizing certain residential customers 24 to seek debt relief or mitigation from other available 25 resources or renegotiate terms of a repayment plan; 26 providing an appropriation for specified uses; 27 providing an effective date. 28 29 Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 30 31 Section 1. Utility customer assistance funds.— 32 (1) For purposes of this section, the term “utility” means 33 an electric utility as defined in s. 366.02(2), Florida 34 Statutes, a natural gas utility as defined in s. 366.04(3)(c), 35 Florida Statutes, or a utility as defined in s. 367.021, Florida 36 Statutes. 37 (2) The Office of Energy within the Department of 38 Agriculture and Consumer Services must establish an application 39 process for a utility that meets the requirements of this 40 section to complete before it may receive utility customer 41 assistance funds to provide financial assistance to residential 42 customers for nonpayment of utility bills as provided in this 43 section. 44 (3) To be eligible for utility customer assistance funds, a 45 utility must attest that: 46 (a) It will not disconnect utility service to a residential 47 customer for nonpayment of any bill or fee connected to the 48 provision of utility service through December 31, 2021. 49 (b) It will not use utility customer assistance funds to 50 pay for new deposits, down payments, fees, late fees, interest 51 charges, or penalties. 52 (c) It will first use the utility customer assistance funds 53 to provide financial assistance to residential customers whose 54 accounts are more than 60 days past due. Remaining funds shall 55 be used to provide financial assistance to residential customers 56 whose accounts are at least 30 days past due. 57 (d) To the extent possible, it will direct residential 58 customers in writing to other state or federal resources that 59 may assist residential customers in providing debt relief. 60 (e) Within 30 days after receiving utility customer 61 assistance funds, it will notify all residential customers whose 62 accounts are at least 60 days past due of a COVID-19 relief 63 repayment plan. The notification may be by bill insert or bill 64 notice and must include eligibility, billing information, 65 applicable financial assistance resources, and contact 66 information where residential customers may learn more about the 67 repayment plan. 68 (f) It will waive all reconnection fees for residential 69 customers whose utility service was disconnected for any 70 duration starting on March 9, 2020, and ending on January 1, 71 2022, and it will seek to restore utility service to residential 72 customers whose utility service was disconnected. 73 (4) The COVID-19 relief repayment plan: 74 (a) May not require any new deposits, down payments, fees, 75 late fees, interest charges, or penalties. 76 (b) Must amortize the repayment of a residential customer’s 77 utility debt over a period of at least 6 months but not more 78 than 24 months. The utility must work with the residential 79 customer to establish a repayment plan that meets the 80 requirements of this paragraph and that the residential customer 81 determines is sustainable and affordable. 82 (c) May not contain eligibility criteria for participation 83 in the repayment plan, such as installment plan history or 84 upfront fees. 85 (5) Before receiving utility customer assistance funds, 86 each utility must establish a separate COVID-19 customer utility 87 assistance fund and must record each residential customer 88 assistance payment on behalf of a residential customer in 89 accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. Each 90 utility must reflect the utility customer assistance payment on 91 the residential customer’s bill after the utility customer 92 assistance funds are applied to that residential customer’s 93 account. 94 (6) Each utility that receives utility customer assistance 95 funds must provide a report of all related accounting to the 96 Governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House 97 of Representatives, the Public Service Commission, and the 98 Office of Public Counsel by December 31, 2021. 99 (7)(a) In addition to utility customer assistance funds 100 provided under this section, utilities must use funds allocated 101 from the federal coronavirus relief funds of the Coronavirus 102 Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (P.L. 116-136) to provide 103 direct subsidy payments on behalf of residential customers whose 104 accounts are more than 60 days past due, provided such use meets 105 eligibility requirements pursuant to United States Department of 106 the Treasury guidance. In applying these funds to residential 107 customer accounts, utilities shall prioritize providing 108 financial assistance to customers whose accounts are more than 109 60 days past due before providing financial assistance to 110 customers whose accounts are at least 31 days but not more than 111 60 days past due. 112 (b) In addition to the utility customer assistance funds 113 provided in this section, utilities must accept financial 114 assistance from other utility assistance programs funded with 115 federal funds for customers whose accounts are at least 60 days 116 past due. 117 (8) This section does not limit or prevent a residential 118 customer from applying or seeking debt relief or mitigation from 119 other available resources, from entering into another payment 120 plan offered by the utility, or from renegotiating the terms of 121 the repayment plan. 122 Section 2. The Legislature shall appropriate $100 million 123 to provide direct assistance to residential utility customers 124 whose accounts have been past due since May 9, 2020. Utility 125 customer assistance funds shall be transferred to the Office of 126 Energy within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer 127 Services within 30 days after this act becomes a law. 128 Section 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2021.