Texas Bans Utilities From Disconnecting Jobless Customers. Consumer Groups Warn That's Not Enough.

click to enlarge TWITTER / CPS ENERGY
Twitter / CPS Energy
The Texas Public Utility Commission has voted to stop utilities from cutting off services to people who lose their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis.

The order, passed by unanimous vote Thursday, will stay in place for at least six months.

While PUC's action halts disconnections, it doesn't provide financial assistance for residents struggling to pay their bills, consumer groups point out. It also doesn't prevent shut-offs for small businesses such as bars and restaurants, which have taken deep financial blows from the pandemic.

"This is a good first step, but additional action is needed to blunt the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Texas residents struggling to pay their bills," said Kaiba White, an energy policy specialist for Public Citizen’s Texas Office, in an emailed statement.

White added that the PUC should expand the program to include anyone who lost significant income due to the pandemic, not just those people caught in layoffs. What's more, the measure doesn't address reconnecting residents who have already been switched off.

For its part, San Antonio's CPS Energy announced March 11 that it's suspending customer disconnects. The city-owned utility asked that customers call so they can set up payment arrangements and discuss assistance programs it has available.

In addition to assistance for consumers, Thursday's PUC order includes millions of dollars in interest-free loans and reimbursements intended to stave off bankruptcies by private utilities.

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