ALBANY, N.Y. (WENY) - Governor Kathy Hochul announced Thursday that a total of $567 million is available to help low-income electric and gas utility customers pay off past utility bills. 

The financial assistance program includes an estimated $557 million statewide COVID-19 bill credit program for low-income customers adopted Thursday by the New York State Public Service Commission.

"It's unacceptable that far too many New Yorkers are at risk of having their lights shut off for failure to pay their utility bills due to financial problems caused by the pandemic," Governor Hochul said. "To address this, I partnered with the State Legislature to appropriate $250 million toward reducing the burden of utility arrears. Today's action by the Public Service Commission builds on the budget appropriation and is a major step forward to help vulnerable New Yorkers maintain their utility services while they get back on their feet."

The number of customers that have unpaid utility bills and the total dollar amount has risen considerably since the beginning of the pandemic. The bill credit program provides financial relief for customers in order to help them avoid having their utility services shut off.

More than 327,000 low-income New York households will directly benefit from the program.

The bill credit is expected to be applied to customers' utility accounts by August 1st.