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San Antonio City Council approves $30M in power and water utility assistance for people behind on their bills

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Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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The new CPS Energy headquarters near McCollough Ave and Broadway

The San Antonio City Council has authorized the use of $30 million in federal emergency assistance money to be put towards past due bills owed to CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System.

The city has earmarked $20 million for CPS Energy bills and $10 million for SAWS bills. It’s expected to assist about 10,000 CPS Energy customers and 13,000 SAWS customers on bills that go back as far as March 2020. Residents must meet certain guidelines in order to apply.

Shortly after the pandemic began to affect the workforce, both CPS Energy and SAWS paused disconnections for nonpayment. Last month, both utilities announced residential disconnections. Both utilities have stated that no residences would be disconnected as long as they are on a payment plan or signed up for an affordability program.

There are 67,000 CPS Energy customers in San Antonio who are behind on paying their electricity bills — that’s amounted to about $130 million owed to the utility. There are 61,000 homes past due as well with about $43 million owed.

Melody Woosley, Director of the City of San Antonio’s Human Services Department, told council members on Thursday that residents who would like to apply for the assistance must meet certain criteria.

“Those seeking assistance must certify that they were financially impacted by the pandemic due to things like lost income or increased medical expenses, and households under 125% of the federal poverty level must provide income documentation through a pay stub, a tax return or other documents to receive the assistance,” she said.

Families who are under 125% of the federal poverty level can have their entire balance wiped out, Woosley said. For families above that threshold, up to $1,000 could be paid towards a CPS Energy bill and up $700 on a SAWS bill. The amount can only be applied to bills between March 2020 and September 2021.

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City of San Antonio
2021 Federal Poverty Levels

How to apply for CPS Energy Utility Assistance:

How to apply for SAWS Utility Assistance:

The assistance is being funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The city is receiving more than $300 million in funds from ARPA. A portion of that can be used to offset city revenue losses experienced during the pandemic but how to use the remainder is being evaluated by the city and will ultimately be approved by the city council.

It’s possible more money could be allocated to this program. District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry asked why the amount was set at $30 million. Several city staff, including City Manager Erik Walsh said it was an anticipated amount based on the needs of those who would have the largest challenges paying.

“This is working closely with both utilities, making sure that the money that funds are being allocated to those that need help, that that qualify for those assistance programs and that it's very targeted to those individuals,” Walsh said.

Under the city’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program run by the city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department, approximately $13 million of CPS Energy bills and $2 million of SAWS bills have been paid along with $135 million in rental and mortgage assistance.

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