State officials in New York are making $557 million in aid available to low-income utility customers to help pay down debt, Gov. Kathy Hochul's office on Thursday announced. 

The money is meant to help New Yorkers who are enrolled in the Energy Affordability Program pay off past due bills. 

New York is making the money available as energy customers are running fans and air conditioners amid high heat and humidity this month. 

A portion of the money, about $250 million, was approved in the state budget earlier this year. As part of the program, utilities provide a one-time credit to customers who are enrolled in the program if that have accrued bills through May 1 of this year. 

"No New Yorker should have their lights and air conditioning shut off as a result of financial problems caused by the pandemic," Hochul said. "I applaud the state Legislature for their partnership to appropriate $250 million toward reducing the burden of utility arrears, which will be critical to helping vulnerable New Yorkers maintain their utility services, especially during these hot summer months." 

State officials during the COVID-19 pandemic sought to bolster low-income people who may have had their finances interrupted by the economic disruption caused by the health crisis. The number of people who have unpaid bills rose since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.  

So far, more than 327,000 households in the state have benefitted from the affordability program.