Nobody comes to see Verletta Rollins because things are going well.
The director of the Santa Clarita Valley Service Center in Newhall, which provides education and social services to those in need, usually only hears from residents after they have exhausted all their other resources.
“We’re the final call,” she says with a sigh.
At this time of year, Rollins finds more clients coming in needing help paying their electric bill, which can average $400 to $500 during the hottest months in the Santa Clarita, Lancaster and Palmdale areas the center serves. With back-to-school expenses, the high cost of living and unexpected life events, electric bills sometimes become difficult to pay, she says.
But Rollins has help for these clients — the Southern California Edison (SCE) Energy Assistance Fund. Established in 1982, the fund provides up to $100 once every 12 months for low-income customers who can’t pay their bill.
Rollins cites the case of a mother of three who recently came in. The woman’s husband broke his hip several months ago and was unable to work. The couple got behind on their electric bills and owed $1,900.
While $100 in assistance wouldn’t make a huge dent in what the family owed, it allowed Rollins to contact SCE and make arrangements for a payment plan. She also was able to check to see if the family qualified for several other SCE assistance programs that would give them a discount on their electric bills until they can get back on their feet.
“The utility assistance is a blessing,” she says.
The United Way of Greater Los Angeles administers SCE’s Energy Assistance Fund. Patricia Banuelos, who oversees the United Way program, says there is a definite need for assistance. Over the past four years, 10,000-15,000 households annually have been helped.
She says utilities play a critical role in United Way’s mission to provide people in need with educational help, financial stability and housing.
“If the lights go off, you can’t study and if you can’t study, you can’t graduate, which affects your ability to get a job,” she says. “Not being able to pay your bills is the first stage of homelessness.”
This year Edison International, parent company of SCE, donated $1 million from shareholder funds to the Energy Assistance Fund. Additional donations from SCE employee fundraising campaigns and SCE customers brought the total fund to $1.5 million.
Tammy Tumbling, SCE director of Philanthropy and Community Investment, said Edison sees the fund as a way of giving back to the community.
“At Edison International, we strive to be a good neighbor — an integral part of the community where our employees live and work,” Tumbling says. “That is why for the past 33 years, Edison International has joined SCE employees and SCE customers in a special partnership with the United Way to help our customers who are struggling to pay their electricity bills.
“We take pride in being involved in assisting our neighbors who need our help.”