SAN ANTONIO – After a year-and-a-half, San Antonio Water System and CPS Energy customers could once again have their water or power shut off for non-payment.
The city’s water and power utilities both put a hold on service disconnections in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the number of customers behind on their payments has swelled. Now they’re at risk unless they can start making good on their past-due accounts.
CPS Energy will begin some residential shut-offs starting Friday, Oct. 1, while SAWS has begun sending out final notices to some customers and will restart its disconnections on Oct. 19.
CPS Energy has already been working on shut-offs for large, commercial users, though officials say most made arrangements to avoid disconnection. Small and medium businesses will also be eligible to have their power disconnected again starting Friday.
CPS Energy says it has 76,012 customers - 71,912 of whom are residential - who are far enough behind on their bills to be eligible for disconnection. That number does not include customers who are on payment plans that protect them from having their power turned off.
Though SAWS has 65,208 delinquent accounts, most are on a payment plan already. That leaves about 16,000 residential and 3,000 commercial users who still face having their water shut off.
Not everyone will be disconnected immediately though.
CPS Energy says that when it comes to residential customers, it is focusing first on the ones who haven’t paid in the past 12 months, aren’t on any kind of assistance, and haven’t responded to the utility’s calls. That takes the number of residential customers who face having their lights shut off starting Friday down to about 7,000.
CPS Energy Vice President of Customer Success Deanna Hardwick said the utility will probably do a “couple hundred” disconnections a day. Later on, the scope will widen to include more delinquent residential accounts.
“Starting November 1, it’s customers - residential customers - who are not on any residential or assistance programs, but are at that 38 days or more past due,” Hardwick said. “And then starting January 4th, its customers who are enrolled in some type of assistance programs - trying to give those customers who need the most help the longest amount of time to find the additional assistance that they need.”
Meanwhile, SAWS is in the process of sending out final notices to its customers who aren’t already on a payment plan. They will have two to three weeks after receiving the notice before their water is shut off.
“They will need to contact us and enter into some sort of payment arrangement or work with us about getting some sort of leak adjustment if their high bill was due to a leak,” said SAWS Vice President of Customer Experience & Strategic Initiatives Mary Bailey.
SAWS has already put many residential customers into a 48-month payment plan, provided their outstanding balance was under $2,000. If these customers make 18 months of payments, plus their current bill, SAWS will write off the rest of the overdue balance.
Bailey said almost 75% of delinquent residential accounts are involved in some kind of payment plan. Others may have had balances over $2,000, which will need to be worked out individually, or they only slipped into 60 days of delinquency after Aug. 1, which was the original trigger for the automatic payment plans.
Those customers will need to contact SAWS to make payment arrangements, Bailey said.
CPS Energy, however, is relying on its customers to enter into payment plans and is not offering any balance forgiveness, like SAWS. The utility has even said the more than $100 million in overdue bills, including for those who aren’t eligible for disconnection, is a factor in a rate increase it’s currently discussing.
Hardwick says CPS Energy has made more than 88,000 phone calls trying to connect customers with assistance.
CPS Energy customers can call 210-353-2222, go through the Manage My Account portal on its website, or one of its four service centers below to get help. The utility says it will work with customers to set up payment plans and try to find assistance to pay overdue balances.
The utility noted it may call customers to set up payment plans, but never to collect payment over the phone.
If you’re currently past due on your SAWS bill - the utility has set up two online options for either setting up a payment plan or applying for financial assistance.
SAWs officials said customers can prevent their water service from being shut off in October by setting up a payment plan. If you set up a payment plan, you will be required to pay the payment arrangement amount in addition to your current monthly charges.
If you think you may qualify for one of the SAWS need-based assistance programs visit saws.org/uplift or call 210-233-CARE (2273). Payment arrangements and assistance information can also be found on saws.org/getcurrent.