Originally created 02/21/01

Seniors will receive credit on gas bills



ATLANTA - Next month, 30,000 Georgians ages 65 and older will get a $74 credit on their gas bills because the Public Service Commission voted Tuesday to tap an account reserved for bad debts.

Commissioners said the $1.5 million is the most that can be spent, and they asked lawmakers to allocate part of the state's $973 million surplus for additional emergency aid. They also agreed to seek a ruling on whether customers must pay sales taxes on the services included on their bills.

Customers who are ages 65 and older and have a household income below $10,000 are eligible for the credit. They can apply through their marketer.

The credits, approved unanimously by the five-member commission, come from the Universal Service Fund, an account that comes from about 600 large industrial customers who buy surplus fuel to reimburse gas marketers for uncollectable consumer debts and for the laying of new pipe.

None of the nine marketers has applied for reimbursement, but Commissioner David Burgess predicted they would in coming months as customers struggle under unusually high prices during the coldest winter in a decade. Customers who can't pay their bills have been protected by the commission's 60-day moratorium on shutting off for nonpayment, and marketers have had to absorb the cost of continuing to supply any delinquent users.

"I imagine some of the marketers are piling up some debts," he said.

Mr. Burgess asked the commission staff to poll marketers about how much in uncollectable accounts they have and how many customers they would terminate for nonpayment if the shutoff moratorium expires. That information will determine whether the commission extends the moratorium, he said.

Mr. Burgess also called for the creation of a fund dedicated to providing aid to poor and elderly customers.

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424.