Texas consumers have a new financial backstop to avoid electricity disconnection during the COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine.
If you need help paying bills, the Texas COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program can help. This program is designed to help those who can’t pay bills due to unemployment or economic hardship caused by COVID-19.
Here are FAQs on the Texas COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program (CERP) and how to apply.
What is the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program?
The Texas COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program (CERP) helps consumers who are having trouble paying bills due to job loss or other related hardship.
There are two aspects of the CERP program:
- Retail Electric Providers (REPs) must offer a deferred payment plan to any residential customer who requests one, regardless of their previous payment history.
- REPs must suspend electricity disconnections for residential customers who have been added to the state’s unemployment and low income list due to the effects of COVID-19.
If you have applied for unemployment or are low income, you are not automatically qualified for CERP list. You must apply separately for this relief program.
Who is eligible for the Texas COVID-19 Electricity Relief Plan?
Residential customers that qualify for unemployment or that are low income qualify for the Texas COVID-19 Electricity Relief Plan.
How do I apply for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program?
Contact the state’s Low Income List Administrator (LILA) at 866-454-8387 to enroll. This number is staffed 24/7.
When you call, you will need to provide LILA your name as it appears on the electricity bill, your service address and your electricity account number with your REP (if available).
After you have called LILA and qualified, you will be provisionally added to the CERP-eligible list.
Within 7 days, the REP will be notified that they cannot disconnect your power if you are unable to pay the bill.
You should also contact your electricity provider directly to notify them of your CERP status.
To be on the safe side, if you have a bill due within 10 days of your application for CERP, contact your REP immediately to discuss payment arrangements.
You’ll need to provide proof of your unemployment status within 30 days of applying.
What documentation will I need to provide to prove my eligibility?
Within 30 days of your call to LILA and your provisional approval for CERP, you’ll need to provide documentation of your unemployment benefits approval from the Texas Workforce Commission.
You can submit a copy of your unemployment benefit approval, along with a copy of your electricity bill, to:
Mail: P.O. Box 4060, Killeen, Texas 76540-4060
How long will I remain on the CERP program once I’m approved?
Once approved for the Texas COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program, you will remain on the program for up to six months.
During that time, your electricity provider cannot disconnect your electricity for non-payment.
Can I shop for a new Texas electricity provider while on CERP or a payment arrangement?
No. And this is very important to understand.
Once you are on the CERP program or a deferred payment arrangement, you will not be able to shop for a new electricity provider.
You will have a “switch-hold” placed on your account. You will not be able to switch to a new electricity provider until your bill is paid in full.
This is a very key point:
Before you apply for CERP or a payment arrangement, make sure you have a secure fixed rate plan at a competitive rate.
You do not want to be on a variable month to month rate during this time. If you are not on a contract with your electricity provider, you are on an off-contract variable rate. Off-contract rates can be 30-50% higher than current electricity offers.
ElectricityPlans.com is a comparison site that allows you to shop for a cheap electricity rate. Shop online with just your zip code. Then enter your electricity usage under “Advanced Search” to find the best plan for your home.
Will I still need to pay my bill if I qualify for Texas CERP?
If you qualify for CERP, you will still receive a monthly bill from your electricity provider. You should pay as much of the bill as you are able to pay.
Your Retail Electric Supplier will then apply for a partical reimbursement from the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Fund. The CERP Fund will reimburse your electricity provider $0.04/kwh (4¢/kWh) toward your bill. This helps ensure that REPs stay in business and able to serve their customers. And it helps provide some relief on your bill.
You will still owe the remainder of this bill, but you will not be disconnected while on CERP and while on a deferred plan.
After the CERP program ends, you will need to work with your electricity provider to pay the remaining balance.
Are there electricity bill assistance programs for people who are self-employed or not low income?
Unfortunately, there are no programs in place for self-employed people who do not pay into the state unemployment insurance pool.
Your best bet is to call your electricity provider and request a payment arrangement.
Under the Texas COVID-19 Electricity Relief Plan, your electricity provider MUST allow you to make a deferred payment arrangement. And that’s regardless of your payment status or past payment history.
When you make a deferred payment arrangement, you protect your account from disconnection for non-payment.
Remember, once you enter a deferred payment arrangement, your account will be on a switch hold. That means you will not be able to switch to another electricity provider until you satisfy your debt.
Make sure you lock in a low fixed rate plan with an electricity supplier before opting for a deferred payment plan.
Are businesses eligible for the Texas COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program?
Business electricity customers are not eligible for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program.
If you are a business electricity customer, we suggest calling your REP to work out payment options.
And, check your bill to see when your electricity contract expires. Make sure you are not on a month-to-month electricity rate, which could be 30-50% higher than current business electricity rates.
Who pays for the Texas COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program?
Every Texas residential and business customer in the deregulated electricity market will pay for this relief program.
The COVID-19 Electricity Relief Fund will be paid for through a new delivery charge, also called a tariff rider. The new rider will cost $0.00033/kWh.
The net bill increase for the average Texas customer using 1200 kWh a month will be just 40¢ per month.
That’s a small price for each of us to pay to support our fellow Texans.
The CERP fund will partially reimburse Retail Energy Providers for customers that can’t pay their bill. This helps ensure that REPs continue operating and providing electricity in this time of crisis, even if customers can’t pay.
If you have an “all-in” bundled rate, you may see a new line item on your bill for this new rider, under TDSP Charges. This line item may be labeled CERP Rider or COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program Fund.
If you have an unbundled rate, you will see a slight increase in your delivery charge line item on your bill. It may be included in the total delivery cost per kWh, or it may be listed separately on your bill.
I thought disconnections for non-payment of electricity were already suspended?
Earlier this month (March 13, 2020), the local delivery companies — Centerpoint, Oncor, TNMP and AEP-Texas North/Central — suspended all disconnections while the Public Utility Commission of Texas weighed options. As of March 30, 2020, that disconnection moratorium is no longer in effect.
If you had been depending on that to keep from being disconnected, we recommend that you contact your REP for payment arrangements or apply for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program immediately.