AUSTIN, Texas - A new tool has been launched to help eligible low-income Texas homeowners and renters pay their utility bills.
Texas homeowners and renters may submit an application for Texas Utility Help (TXUH) if their household income is at or below 150% of Federal Poverty Income Guidelines, and they meet other eligibility criteria. For a family of four that is just more than $41,000.
"We are not going to cut people's electricity off for non-payment if it’s that warm," said Jennifer Herber, spokesperson, Austin Energy.
The maximum household income depends on the number of people living in the household, according to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA).
"We launched Texas Utility Help at the state level to make it easier for even more Texans to access and benefit from utility assistance programs," said Bobby Wilkinson, TDHCA executive director. "The new program uses a streamlined online application process, so any eligible Texas household can apply for both energy and water bill assistance in a single form."
Austin Energy said if you fall behind on your bill, there is no need to worry about being shut off in these temperatures, thanks to a summer moratorium.
"If the heat index is 102 or higher the day of, and expected to be 102 or higher the next day, we will not do residential disconnects," said Herber.
Austin hit a record for triple digits in June, and the heat will stick around. In the meantime, there are things you can do to save some money, close your drapes, and use Crockpots instead of the oven all the time, and also turn on the fan when you are home.
"No one likes to hear this one but if you turn your air conditioner up to 78 degrees or higher, it's going to be pretty warm but that will help you save a little money on your bill," said Herber.
Herber is glad the state is stepping in to help people during the summer heat wave.
If you have trouble paying the bills, Herber said the best thing to do is communicate.
"If you find that you are having trouble paying your bills, we have budget billing, we have payment arrangements, and some people even qualify for some of our customer assistance programs," said Herber.
Qualified applicants can receive assistance for their total past due amounts for electricity, natural gas and propane plus up to $2,400 in prospective payments.
For water and wastewater assistance, qualified applicants can pay off their total past due payments and up to $600 in prospective payments.
All payments are issued directly to the utility company on behalf of the applicant.
Texas Utility Help has over $50 million ready for Texas homeowners and renters in need. Program staff are encouraging applicants to apply as soon as possible while these funds are still available.
For more information and questions, the call center is staffed Monday-Friday 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. and can be reached toll-free at 855-566-2057. Help is available in multiple languages.
Texasutilityhelp.com is the website you go to apply for this assistance. The PUC released this statement:
"We thank the Department of Housing and Community Affairs for their work to protect customers. This is another tool to help customers cope with the extreme heat this summer. We also encourage customers who are having trouble paying their bills to contact their retail electric provider (REP). Their retail electric provider will inform them of any assistance programs that the REP offers. In addition, a call to 211 Texas will help connect customers with resources in their area," said Mike Hoke, Director of Government Relations, Public Utility Commission of Texas