COVID-19 has put many Texas residents out of work, and that can impact whether they are able to pay their utility bills. In October 2020, the state’s unemployment rate was 6.9 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Although that was an improvement over September’s rate of 8.3 percent, it still represents millions of Texans out of work. As a point of comparison, in October 2019, the unemployment rate in Texas was 3.5 percent.
So, what should you do if you find yourself unable to pay your electricity bills? SaveOnEnergy is here with advice from industry experts.
For many residents who may be unemployed – or even underemployed – and running out of savings, there’s the constant pressure of never-ending utility bills. Many households may struggle to pay the most essential bills such as power and water.
“If you find yourself in a financial situation where you can’t pay your utilities, don’t worry – there are still ways you can potentially work with your company (or retail electric provider – in Texas) to keep your utilities on without furthering your financial stress,” said Leslie H. Tayne, Esq., founder and head attorney of Tayne Law Group. Tayne has more than 20 years of experience in consumer and business financial debt solutions.
“First, you can begin by prioritizing your utilities,” Tayne says. “For example, water and electricity are necessary, but maybe cable or subscription entertainment can be scaled back or canceled.”
Next, Tayne recommends calling your retail electric provider directly. “Negotiate your bill down or create a payment plan that will get you back on track,” she advised.
Many companies offer budget billing options, which rounds out your average usage amount and provides a consistent monthly payment. Knowing your monthly payment will be roughly the same amount each month eliminates surprises, making it easier for you to know how much you’ll need to pay every time.
“Many retail electric providers will be willing to work with you and even have some assistance programs available for qualifying households,” Tayne said. Check with your retail electric provider directly to see if it offers any types of programs.
It’s vitally important to make contact as soon as possible. According to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, you should contact the retail electric provider before the bill is due or your service is disconnected.
If you have not received 2 or more termination notices in the past year, you are eligible for a deferred payment plan. However, be sure to read the terms of that plan carefully. Violating these terms and conditions can lead to a disconnection.
Also, before your electric service contract can be terminated for nonpayment, you will receive a written notice to shut off your power at least 10 days before the disconnection date. This notice must include the steps you can take to avoid being disconnected. It should also include any charges you have to pay for disconnection and reconnection.
Your deposit should be applied to your overdue amount, which will reduce the amount you owe. According to the PUC of Texas, the disconnect notice should also inform you of government programs in Texas that can assist low-income customers.
“Beyond [REP] programs, you can also be eligible for government or charity assistance programs,” Tayne added.
One such organization is the Greater East Texas Community Action Program (GETCAP), which provides energy assistance for low-income households.
Another option is to call 2-1-1 and select option 6 to get information about assistance for utilities, housing, food, and healthcare.
In addition, the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) is a part of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and provides help with utility bills.