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5 Programs to Help You Save Money on Utilities and Food during COVID-19
April 10, 2020
by Sirinya Matute
The City of Santa Monica knows that the COVID-19 public health emergency is a challenging time for our residents both financially and socially. Many Santa Monica residents have experienced reduced hours or job loss due to COVID-19, and now face the humbling and overwhelming task of applying for programs such as unemployment.
If you are unemployed or have experienced financial impacts due to COVID-19, this program roundup may help you access and prioritize resources you now qualify for to lower your utility and food bills.
Program details are subject to change and processing times will vary due to application volumes.
Will I qualify?
Possibly, even if you are receiving unemployment benefits or have personal savings.
General rule of thumb: if your household income has fallen under 200 percent of the federal poverty level (up to about $33,820 if you live alone and up to $64,000 annually for a household of four), then you should explore these options. Due to the COVID-19 emergency, some of these programs only require you to report household income as of today (after loss of employment).
Some of these programs build on one another. For example, if you become eligible for a public assistance program such as CalFRESH or the National School Lunch Program, then you can take advantage of discounted internet service from Comcast or Spectrum.
5 Programs To Apply for Now
1. Apply for CARE and FERA to lower your electricity and gas bills
California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) reduces electrical bills for eligible customers by about 30% and gas bills by about 20%. Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA) reduces electric bills for qualified households by 18%.
It only takes a few minutes to apply and no additional documentation is required. You may be selected for ‘verification’ later, although these utilities are not conducting any verifications for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.
CARE and FERA are open to both SoCal Edison and Clean Power Alliance (CPA) members. CPA members apply through SoCal Edison.
2. Apply for the California Lifeline Telephone Discount Program to lower your cell phone or landline bills
This program is open to Californians who qualify for a public assistance program or whose household income is under 150% of the Federal Poverty Levels. This works out to $28,700 for a household of one.
To get started, you need to call your existing wireless or telephone carrier, and say you want to apply for the California Lifeline discounts or Enhanced Lifeline discounts.
Then, you’ll receive an application form with a Personal Identification Number (PIN) in a pink envelope within three weeks. (Yes, three weeks, but maybe longer due to COVID-19). You need the PIN to proceed with the application. So, get this going now because it will take awhile for the discount to kick in.
3. Switch to free internet if you have school-aged kids
- Wander is providing free high-speed internet to all Santa Monica families with school-age children for the rest of the school year. If that’s you, check to see if you qualify by visiting https://wander.net/service and use the code SCHOOL2020 to subscribe.
- Spectrum is providing two months of free internet service for households with a K-12 or college student who do not already have a Spectrum internet subscription, installation fees will be waived, and free access to Spectrum public Wi-Fi access points for 60 days. To enroll call 1-844-488-8395.
4. Get help putting food on the table by applying for CalFresh
This program is worth applying for if your gross monthly income is under $2,082 if you live alone (up to $4,292 for a household of four). After submitting your application online, you will complete an eligibility interview within a week and have an EBT card with money within 30 days.
Applying online takes only 10 minutes. Applicants get up to $194 a month per household member on an EBT card. Bonus: You can use your CalFresh benefits at our farmers’ markets.
Need help sooner? If your household's combined monthly income and money on hand (includes savings) are less than your household's combined monthly rent and utilities, you can qualify for 3-day Expedited Service.
5. Switch to discounted rates with Spectrum or Comcast
In short, you need to apply for other public assistance programs first before you can take part in these discounts.
- Spectrum Internet Assist: Open to households participating only one of these three programs: National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of NSLP, or Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) only.
- Internet Essentials by Comcast: Open to households participating in a broader range of public assistance programs.
- Apply for the National School Lunch Program through Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District
For additional practical resources during the COVID-19 public health emergency, visit santamonica.gov/coronavirus-resources. Also, stay informed of future COVID-19 updates by signing up for SaMo News at santamonica.gov/newsletter.