SAN ANTONIO – The City of San Antonio is considering using a $30 million chunk of the federal money it received from the American Rescue Plan Act to help pay off or pay down the overdue utility bills of struggling San Antonio residents.
In a plan presented to the city council’s Municipal Utilities Committee on Tuesday, city staff suggested allocating $20 million to CPS Energy and $10 million to the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) to pay off overdue balances for some utility customers who live in San Antonio. The plan would still need to be approved by the San Antonio City Council, which will consider the program at its Nov. 18 meeting.
Depending on the customer’s income, they could either have the whole balance from between Mar. 1, 2020 and Sep. 30, 2021 waived, or get a credit of up to $700 off their SAWS bills or $1,000 off their CPS balance.
City staff believe this program could help 20,000 CPS customers and 13,000 SAWS customers.
- Must be a San Antonio resident.
- Must show proof of hardship because of COVID-19 between Mar. 1, 2020 and Sep. 30, 2021. That could be: an unemployment or furlough letter, paystubs showing decreased pay, documentation of unexpected expenses, medical documentation showing the inability to work, or even signed self-declaration explaining how COVID impacted your finances.
- Must enroll in the affordability program or a payment plan with the utility.
City staff told reporters they were encouraging struggling residents to get into either an affordability program or a payment plan now so they are ready to apply for the programs should council approve the idea.
The two utilities’ affordability programs offer reduced bills to customers who are at less than 125 percent of the federal poverty, which equates to an annual income of $16,100 for a one-person household or $33,125 for a family of four.
Both utilities are also offering payment plans to struggling residents.
That 125 percent poverty level would also be used to determine if a customer gets their balance waived in full or if they receive a credit.
The money for the program would come out of the $229.4 million in fiscal recovery dollars from ARPA city officials are still deciding how to spend.
The proposed qualifications, including the city residency requirement, means not all customers would be eligible to get the help, nor would there be enough money to completely clear all outstanding balances.
CPS officials told reporters they still have about $100 million in outstanding balances, and SAWS says that, as of the end of September, it had $53.9 million worth of bills that were more than 60 days past due. Those numbers include both commercial and residential customers.
CPS Energy Chief Customer and Stakeholder Engagement Officer Rudy Garza said the power utility planned to prioritize the money for “those at the lowest incomes with the highest balances first.”
Similarly, SAWS Vice-President of Customer Experience & Strategic Initiatives Mary Bailey told KSAT she believed the water utility would prioritize the customers in its affordability program first.
Bailey also noted that 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.
While both utilities have resumed disconnections for residential customers, CPS officials say they still haven’t had to perform any. SAWS officials did not have exact figures but told reporters it was not very many and the vast majority had already restored their service.
The overdue balances from the pandemic have been part of CPS Energy’s calculations for a proposed rate increase, along with winter freeze costs, and updating the utility’s infrastructure.
However, while CPS CFO Cory Kuchkinsky says the current working estimate for the increase is 8.2 percent, that figure doesn’t yet take into account the $20 million in relief that could come out of this program, or other factors.
Affordability Programs & Payment Plans
Here’s some information on how to apply for an affordability program or payment plan with the utilities