San Antonio City Council voted Nov. 18 to approve a $30 million utility assistance program to aid low-income residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with utility payments.
Using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, the city is allocating $20 million to assist CPS Energy customers and $10 million to help San Antonio Water System customers, according to city officials.
City officials said the new program will pay off an eligible resident’s past-due utility bills incurred between March 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021 if they earn under 125% of the federal poverty level, which is $12,880 for one person and $26,500 for a family of four.
Such residents must be enrolled in their respective utility’s affordability program, city officials said.
For eligible residents earning more than 125% of the federal poverty level, the program lets CPS Energy provide up to $1,000 and SAWS up to $700 in utility bill credits so long as the customer is enrolled in a payment plan.
City Manager Erik Walsh said in a news release that thousands San Antonians, and millions nationwide, have struggled financially since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic because of underemployment or total job loss.
As a result, Walsh said many people have been put at risk of water or electrical service disconnection.
According to CPS Energy, customers owe more than $130 million in past-due electricity bills, with 67,636 customers eligible for disconnection. SAWS estimates 61,965 residential customers are 60 days past due with more than $43 million owed.
“This much-needed program will help residents in San Antonio recover at a faster pace from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Walsh said in a statement. “To ensure that eligible residents receive funds for assistance with their utility bills, they should register now for affordability and payment programs at SAWS and CPS Energy.”
District 9 Council Member John Courage said the public should understand that eligible, affected utility customers will not be receiving money from the new program.
“The utilities are going to determine who is qualified and will credit their bills with the money we’ve provided them,” Courage said. “That will help clear the bills that many of these people may owe, so that they can continue getting services and not get cut off.”
SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente said the water utility has sought to help customers since the early stages of the pandemic.
“These ARPA funds will further extend financial assistance to our customers trying to catch up on bills,” he said in a statement.
Rudy Garza, interim president and CEO for CPS Energy, encouraged customers to call 210-353-6110 for more information about how they can get aid through the assistance program.
“We’re committed to helping all of our customers with payment plans and access to this additional assistance,” he said in a statement.
According to the release, CPS Energy customers may apply for help by visiting any CPS Energy customer service center or attending a community event. For details on upcoming events, visit https://cpsenergy.com/events. Customers visiting a center or an event are encouraged to wear a mask, CPS Energy officials say. Customer service centers are open from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, except for Wednesday, when hours are temporarily extended to 6:45 p.m.
CPS Energy customers may also apply online using English at https://www.cpsenergy.com/arpa or using Spanish at https://www.cpsenergy.com/arpa-sp. Otherwise, customers may call 210-353-6110.
According to the release, SAWS customers may apply for help by visiting www.saws.org/uplift or calling 210-704-7297.
Individuals must show proof of hardship due to COVID-19 within the timeframe of March 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021, as well as documentation of household income.
CPS and SAWS will screen for eligibility and process applications. For more information on how to enroll in affordability or payment plans, visit cpsenergy.com/assistance or https://uplift.saws.org/
Approved funds will be disbursed starting in December, city officials said.