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.
We’ve updated this story to incorporate PUCT program changes and clarifications issued 4/17/2020.
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.
You can also apply online through the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
When you apply, 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. Under the PUCT’s directive, your electricity provider will offer you a deferred payment plan.
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 LILA with 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 can remain on the program through July 17, 2020, unless the PUCT extends the program.
During that time, your electricity provider cannot disconnect your electricity for non-payment. However, unpaid bills will continue to accrue.
Bills issued on or after March 26, 2020 qualify under the CERP plan, even if electricity was consumed before that date.
Can I shop for a new Texas electricity provider while on CERP or a payment arrangement?
Yes and no. And this is very important to understand.
Once you are on 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.
However… and this is a very key point…
You can be on CERP, and be protected from disconnection, without being on a deferred payment program. But, if you are not on a deferred payment plan, your REP can’t apply for funds to offset your bill.
That would mean you would have the benefit of no disconnection, but not the benefit of any potential bill payment assistance.
Confusing? Yes. And it makes the Retail Electricity Providers nervous. Because once you are on CERP, they have to accept you as a customer. Your CERP qualification means they have to waive any deposit and take you as a customer. That makes it super easy to switch providers and leave an outstanding balance. (Please don’t do that… it will leave you with a trail of bad debt and impact your credit.)
We recommend that 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 for cheap Texas electricity rates 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.
If you are on a deferred payment plan, your Retail Electric Supplier will then apply for a partial reimbursement from the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Fund. The CERP Fund will reimburse your electricity provider $0.04/kwh (4¢/kWh) toward your bill, and your delivery charges would be partially waived. 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 or while on a deferred payment plan.
After the CERP program ends, you will need to work with your electricity provider to pay the remaining balance.
Will I have to pay late fees if I qualify for Texas CERP and can’t pay my bill?
The PUCT implemented a Suspension of Late Fees for residential electric bills issued from March 26, 2020 to May 15, 2020. That Suspension of Late Fees applies to all Texas customers, regardless of whether they qualify for CERP.
On May 14, the PUCT will review that order, to decide whether to extend the program.
If you are on a deferred payment plan, your late fees are suspended, as long as you continue making payment efforts.
Your REP may also waive late fees on a case by case basis.
Are there electricity bill assistance programs for people who are self-employed or not low income?
Self-employed, contract workers and gig-workers may be eligible for unemployment assistance under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
Traditionally, these type of workers would not be covered by unemployment, because their employer does not pay for unemployment insurance on their behalf. This new program will qualify you for unemployment payments.
Once on the PUA program, you can be added to the CERP eligibility list.
As we said above, 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.
If you live in an area of Texas served by a deregulated utility, make sure you lock in a low fixed rate plan with an electricity supplier before opting for a deferred payment plan. Deregulated Texas utilities include: Oncor, CenterPoint, AEP Texas Central, AEP Texas North, and Texas New Mexico Power.
Shop Texas Electricity Plans Near You
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.