A rundown of the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Plan

The Choose Energy Team
By The Choose Energy Team

The COVID-19 Relief Plan will help Texans in financial distress.

On March 26, the Texas Public Utility Commission announced its COVID-19 Emergency Relief Plan in response to the spread of coronavirus. This plan will provide aid to Texas utility customers who are experiencing financial difficulties stemming directly from the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has brought with it a lot of uncertainty for many Texas families. This emergency fund is intended to help with utility bills. Following is a breakdown of how the PUC emergency fund functions and who it will impact.

Water utility customers

The commission has ordered a suspension of all disconnections due to non-payment. This applies for customers of all PUC-regulated water and sewer utilities in Texas.

Electricity customers

For all electricity consumers outside of the deregulated market, the PUC has ordered suspensions of all disconnections for non-payment. This applies specifically for Entergy, El Paso Electric, SPS, and SWEPCO electric customers.

For Texans living in deregulated areas, the PUC’s COVID-19 Electricity Relief Plan is in effect. Under this plan, all Retail Electric Providers (REPs) must:

  • Offer a deferred payment plan immediately to any residential customer who requests one
  • Suspend all disconnections for residential energy customers who are on the state’s unemployment and low-income records due to COVID-19.

What customers need to do

Unemployed or low-income electricity customers will not automatically be approved for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Plan. Instead, they will need to contact the state’s Low Income List Administrator by calling 866-454-8387 to request enrollment. This call center is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Within 30 days of this call, each applicant will be required to submit documentation of their unemployment benefits from the Texas Workforce Commission.

Applicants will need to submit proof of unemployment and specific information, including name, electric service address, and the electricity account number. After applicants have been approved, their REP will be notified within a week to not disconnect power if the customer is unable to pay their bill. Most REPs are offering a deferred payment plan.

What happens afterwards

REPs will not be allowed to disconnect eligible Texans’ power for up to six months. However, REPs will still generate a bill for customers under the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Plan. Eligible Texans are encouraged to pay what they can on their bills, and the remaining balance will be covered by the relief plan.

The costs of this plan are split between other paying customers, losses absorbed by the electric provider, and, eventually, the customers eligible for the plan once a deferred payment plan is established with the REP.

A few things to note:

While the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Plan will certainly be a source of good news for many Texans, there are a few important aspects to keep in mind.

  • The emergency plan does not include commercial energy customers, such as small businesses and restaurants.
  • In order to avoid private utility bankruptcies, this relief plan gives providers millions of dollars in interest-free loans and reimbursements, most of which were paid for by ratepayers. Experts predict this may greatly impact how the deregulated market functions.
  • The COVID-19 Emergency Relief Plan will be funded by an additional fee of 33 cents per kWh paid by customers. This will provide funds to cover bills that eligible Texans are unable to pay.
  • This plan does not require utilities restore water or power to affected households whose utilities were shut off earlier this month.
  • As it stands currently, unemployed or low-income Texans will still be on the hook for their electric bills after six months. Based on how this pandemic has affected unemployment rates, it is likely these eligible households will feel the economic impacts well into the future.

As the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Plan goes into effect, it will likely help many unemployed and low-income Texans. While some question whether this relief plan provides enough aid, many are relieved to have financial aid in any form.

 

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