(September 23, 2020)
The COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program was designed to help low-income Texans avoid utility cutoffs during the pandemic and will end October 1. Critics say it has failed to achieve its goal of helping consumers because not enough was done to make them aware of its existence.
Less than 4 percent of the 3 million Texans who claimed unemployment benefits since the beginning of the pandemic enrolled in the program. Critics argue this relatively low level of uptake was because retail electricity providers (REPs) were not obliged to inform customers about the support program. even if they were transferring a customer to a deferred payment plan.
The Texas Legal Service Center, a nonprofit that provides pro bono services to low-income clients, requested that the PUC and Texas Workforce Commission cooperate to inform unemployed residents about the assistance. However, the Workforce Commission refused, arguing that the support was not specifically aimed at unemployed people.
“It’s failing miserably and people are being saddled with debt,” said consumer lawyer Randall Chapman. “Electricity consumers have to know the secret handshake to enroll.”