SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – State lawmakers are looking to help struggling New Mexicans catch up on their bills during the pandemic. Representative Kristina Ortez believes New Mexicans are tens of millions of dollars behind on their gas and electric bills. The proposal could help pay those debts while urging utility companies to cut some of their customers a break.

“What this bill does is set us on a path where New Mexicans can pay their bills with some dignity,” said Rep. Kristina Ortez (D- Taos). “And it also, this is so exciting, it sets up a fund at the state so that we can make investments in local communities so that low-income New Mexicans can pay less utility bills in general.”

People behind on utility payments could be put on an installment program and avoid late fees. The bill would also allow public utilities to set separate rates for low-income New Mexicans. KRQE News 13 spoke with an Albuquerque nursing assistant who said she had to stay home for weeks when she contracted the coronavirus and said her utility bills almost doubled, which put another strain on her family.

“So trying to get back on track as far as my employment and things building back up as a little bit rough especially through this pandemic,” said Tiffany Vigil. The bill could also let PRC allow some debt forgiveness on utilities.

This bill is scheduled to be next heard in a Senate committee on Thursday. PNM said about 46,000 customers are behind on their payments. Their average past-due payment amount is about $442, totaling about $20-million.