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NEWS: Texas Halts Water and Power Disconnects Amid Wave of Layoffs

March 26, 2020
Categories: Coverage

Dallas Morning News Story from Kyle Arnold on the PUC's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally Published Here.

Kyle Arnold, Dallas News

Texans can get a 30-day stay on having power turned off, but others will be levied a new tax to pay for the costs.

Texas’s utility regulator halted residential water and power shutoffs Thursday after pressure from consumer advocates hoping to provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Public Utilities Commission of Texas said it will suspend shutoffs for the next 30 days for customers who call their power or utility providers and ask for deferred payments. Electric, water and sewer providers also must suspend late fees.

“As our state takes appropriately aggressive measures to stem the tide of a disease with outsize potential to spread and harm our citizens, we must include provisions to assist families at increased risk of losing power, water and sewer service,” said a statement from Chairman Deann Walker.

She said halting shutoffs “strikes the appropriate balance of providing immediate assistance to eligible residential customers experiencing COVID19-related hardship while ensuring the long-term viability of our state’s competitive electricity market.”

The new rule does not apply to telephone or internet service. It also does not apply to businesses.

The order comes the same day that Texas recorded an unprecedented 155,000 new requests for jobless benefits last week alone, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Tens of thousands of Texans are being furloughed and laid off as residents follow rules to try to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The Texas Legal Services Center joined six other advocacy groups in pushing for the relief plan after hearing from clients that were facing utility disconnects due to financial troubles.

“There will be no disconnections, but it is temporary — only 30 days, at this time," said a statement from Karen Miller, executive director of Texas Legal Services Center. "We will still need to address the long term income insecurity issues that so many Texans will face for a long time to come.”

Customers facing disconnections should be allowed to sign up for a deferred payment program, according to the new rule.

Electric providers will be allowed to petition the Public Utilities Commission for a reimbursement for customers who can’t make payments. That money will come from a new fee for customers, which averages out to about 33 cents a month for customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month.

Several of the state’s utility and electric providers have already pledged to stop disconnects and late fees, including the city of Dallas, TXU Energy and Reliant Energy.

Copyright Dallas Morning News