Thursday, June 28, 2012

Customer Assistance -- Utility Bill Discount Program

City of Austin Customer Assistance Program Summit -- June 28, 2012

This program provides electric, water and other utility bill discounts to City of Austin utility customers who are receiving benefits through any of a variety of local, state or federal assistance programs. Eligible programs currently include:

   Medicaid (categories SSI/Aged/Disabled)
   Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program
   Travis County Hospital District Medical Assistance (MAP) program
   Travis County Energy Assistance programs (CEAP or FEMA)
   State paid Medicare part A and B (QMB, SLMB or Q1)

Effective October 1, 2012, participants in additional programs will qualify for utility bill discounts. These programs include:

   Medicaid low income assistance components
   Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program
   Children’s Health Insurance program
   Telephone Lifeline program


Customers will be able to sign up for utility bill discounts by mailing in an application, automatic enrollment through a 3rd party process, or enrollment by Austin Energy staff during outreach events. In the future, enrollment will also be available through the web.


A new component of the utility bill discount program will be education outreach to provide energy saving tips and training to qualifying households. This outreach could include a home visit to assess how energy is used and to determine how the home compares with other comparable homes. This outreach would occur in advance of providing energy efficiency improvements to qualifying homes.

Free Weatherization

Additional funding will be dedicated to the delivery of free home energy efficiency improvements to utility bill discount recipients. The goal is to reduce energy use and enhance comfort through better home efficiency and education.

Community Involvement

Two community groups have been established to assist and provide guidance in shaping and managing City of Austin Customer Assistance programs. First, a Discount Steering Committee of representatives from a diversity of community organizations that provide direct assistance to those in need. This group will make recommendations on assistance program implementation and structure. A Community Advocacy Group of advocacy representatives will assist in policy development and in garnering community support on issues related to vulnerable customers.

Other Customer Assistance Programs

Medically Vulnerable Registry

This program is designed to identify households with customers who either have life-sustaining electrical equipment in use in their residence or are critically or seriously ill.

Registration forms are mailed or faxed directly to the customer’s physician. The form must be signed by both the customer and their physician. Customers who wish to apply should call 494-9400.

Case managers assist these customers. That assistance includes home visits as needed, assistance in developing backup plans in the event of power outages, plus planning for third party notifications. The Registry does not guarantee priority utility service restoration during unplanned outages but seeks to help these customers be prepared with back up plans and other assistance.  

Customers enrolled in the Registry may be eligible for longer payment arrangements or other considerations in managing the utility accounts. However, customers on the Registry are not exempt from financial responsibilities if their account becomes delinquent, nor are they exempt from disconnection of services according to established policies.

Plus 1 Financial Assistance

This program provides emergency utility bill assistance on a one-time basis to City of Austin utility customers on low, moderate or fixed incomes who face unexpected emergencies.

Plus 1 financial assistance is administered through some 20 community partners. This means the customer applies through the community agency that best meets their overall needs. Current partners include:
  • AIDS Services of Austin
  • Any Baby Can
  • Capital Idea
  • David Chapel Baptist Church
  • Foundation Communities
  • Foundation for the Homeless
  • Greater Mt Zion Baptist Church
  • H.A.N.D. (Helping the Aging, Needy & Disabled)
  • Hospice Austin
  • Meals on Wheels and More
  • Sacred Heart Parish
  • SafePlace
  • St. Albert the Great Catholic Church
  • St. Austin Catholic Church
  • St. Louis House
  • St. Louis Catholic Church
  • St. Mary Cathedral
  • Texas VFW Foundation
  • Travis County Family Services
  • University Avenue Christian Church

Fixed Income Project

This program provides customers who have past due balances or old utility debt with payment arrangement assistance. Caritas of Austin assists the program by providing case management and budget management classes for participants.

This program is available to customers with a utility bill balance of between $400-$900 and whose primary income comes from Social Security, SSI, SSDI or VA disability. The Fixed Income Project Hotline is 512-646-1272.

Homeless Utility Project

This program supports customers who are homeless with past due utility debt that creates a barrier to self-sufficiency and stable housing. Caritas of Austin assists with this program by providing case management, housing assistance and budget management classes for participants. Caritas and Austin Energy develop a payment arrangement through which the customer pays off their utility debt over time.

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