For close to two decades, the “Light UP Texas” utility assistance program helped hundreds of thousands of low-income Texans afford their utility bills. But since that initiative formally came to an end in 2017, low-income residents are finding it increasingly difficult to keep their power on, advocates say.
According to an investigation by the Austin American Statesman, the number of customers who have their electricity cut off has risen by 117 percent during the hottest months. Between June and October 2018, retail electricity providers (REPs) discontinued services approximately 834,000 times.
The same investigation found that electricity shut-offs are a contributing factor in the roughly 70 heat-related fatalities Texas records each year. Kaiba White, energy policy and outreach specialist at Public Citizen Texas, believes that the mounting problems for low-income customers are bound up with the elimination of “Light Up Texas.”
The program was established in 1999 and helped recipients of Medicaid and Food Stamps to get discounts of up to 31 percent on their utility bills. But in 2013, the state legislature cancelled the program, allowing its funds to expire in 2016.
“Public Citizen would like to see all of those programs continue and be more robust,” White added. “And frankly, probably, reach larger segments of people.”