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Help with Utilities During COVID-19

The Texas Public Utility Commission has halted electricity, water, and sewage shutoffs until at least May 15 and longer in some circumstances. To benefit from this, private utility customers must contact their utility provider and ask about the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program. 

The halt on shutoffs applies to electric, water, and sewer service. There is no statewide halt to natural gas shutoffs at this time.

How do I keep my electricty connected?

If you cannot pay your electricity contact your utility provider. Even if your utility company has stated it will halt shutoffs due to emergency order, local ordinance, or by voluntary action, contact your utility provider. You may need to ask for help to avoid shutoffs. 

Private Utilities

Private utilities are regulated by the Public Utility Commission. See the Public Utility Commission's FAQ to learn how they are helping to make sure utility customer's power and water stay connected.

All retail electric providers (REPs) must offer a deferment plan to anyone who asks. Retail electric providers are retail energy resellers that operate in many areas. If you do not buy power directly from one of the big electric providers listed below or from a local coop or municipal utility, there is a good chance you get your electricity from an REP.

Low Income List: REPs must also suspend disconnections for anyone on the state's Low Income List. You can go to https://www.txcovid19erp.org/ or call 866-454-8387 to ask to be put on the Low Income List. To get on the list, you must be able qualify for unemployment benefits. You will have to send them proof of unemployment benefit eligibility from the Texas Workforce Commission within 30 days. Be sure to have your electricity provider and account information handy when you call.  

REPs must defer your payments if you ask, whether or not you are on the Low Income List.

Municipal Utilities

If you purchase your electricity from a city, they may have their own assistance program in place. Many city and government-owned utilities have halted electricity shutoffs, including: AustinBrownsvilleBryan, Denton, Garland, GreenvilleLockhart (through May 24), LubbockNew BraunfulsSan Antonio (CPS), and possibly others. Be sure you contact your provider to find out how to participate in their assistance programs.

Some cities have also created programs to help with utility bills.

The following major electricity producers have also stopped shutoffs until further notice, including refusal to honor any retail electricity provider's shutoff requests:

Contact Your Utility Provider

In short, the best thing you can do to keep your utilities on is to contact your utility providers. There are a number of programs that might help you if you ask. 

How do I keep my water and sewer connected?

The Public Utility Commission has ordered all the water and sewer providers it regulates to suspend disconnections. See the Public Utility Commission's Water Service FAQ for more details.

Many public water and sewer providers have also suspended shutoffs, including: AustinBrownsvilleBryanDallasDentonGarlandGreenvilleGuadalupe-Blanco River AuthorityKerrvilleLockhart (through May 24), LubbockNew Braunfuls, and possibly others.

Some cities have also created programs to help with utility bills.

Contact your water and sewer provider to see if they are suspending shutoffs. They may also work with you to defer payments.

What about natural gas service?

At this time, the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program only applies to electricity, water, and sewage. That is because the Public Utilitiy Commission, which issued the relief order, does not regulate natural gas. The Railroad Commission regulates natural gas. 

That said, some natural gas providers have voluntarily halted natural gas shutoffs due to COVID-19.

 

Companies halting gas shutoffs:

The above list may be incomplete. Whether listed here or not, contact your gas provider to ask about programs to keep your gas connected.

Note that you will still owe money for unpaid gas bills. The above companies have said only that they will temporarily halt shutoffs for nonpayment.

 

What about internet?

A number of internet providers have pledged to take steps to help customers can stay on the internet during this crisis. Starting on March 13, 2020, participating providers agreed to:

  • Not disconnect internet or phone for 60 days
  • Waive late fees for nonpayment due to COVID-19 for 60 days
  • Provide free wi-fi hotspots for 60 days

Participating internet providers include:

  • AT&T
  • T-Mobile
  • Spectrum/Charter
  • CenturyLink
  • GoogleFiber
  • Sprint
  • Comcast
  • Verizon
  • Many others

Contact your provider to benefit from these programs.

For help affording internet, see our Internet Access article.

I asked my electricity provider for a deferment, but they refused. What now?

From Texas RioGrande Legal Aid: Nearly every electric provider in Texas is required to offer a deferment upon request. Some co-ops and municipal providers may be exempt from this requirement. If your deferment request was wrongfully denied, gather your emails and correspondence about the deferment request, then call or email your complaint to the Public Utility Commission of Texas at 888-782-8477, customer@puc.texas.gov. To find help paying your bill, call 211, or contact the Texas Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

My kids need the internet for school, but I can't afford it. What can I do?

Some internet providers have special deals that can help.

  • Spectrum has offered 60 days worth of free internet to new subscribers who have children K-12. See more here.
  • Xfinity is offering free wi-fi hotspots in some areas. See more here.
  • AT&T is adding 15GB of data to all hotspot plans through May 13. See more here.
  • Internet Essentials is offering two free months of internet service to qualifying customers. See more here.

Some schools are also doing their best to provide internet access to students. Austin, for example, has a fleet of buses that provide WiFi throughout the school district. (If you live in Austin, see Austin Independent School District's website and this CNN article for details.)

For information on whether your child's school district helps provide access to the internet and online classes, go to the school's website, school district's website, or contact your school administrators.

Does this mean I won't owe money for utilities?

No. The COVID-19 Electricity Relief program allows you to ask your utility company to defer your bills. Your utility payment will eventually be due. 

Remember, you must contact your utility company to participate in the program.

If you have complaints about your utility provider, call the Public Utility Commission of Texas at 888-782-8477, or email customer@puc.texas.gov

Does the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program apply to businesses?

No. The COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program only applies to residences at this time.

If your business is having trouble paying your utilities, contact your provider. They may still be able to work with you.

My utilities have already been shut off. Does this mean my provider has to turn them back on?

No. The COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program only stops your provider from shutting your utilities off. It does not require them to turn your utilities back on. However, if you contact your provider they may still work with you.

I'm confused. Who do I call? Are my utility providers halting shutoffs?

Texas has a complicated patchwork of public and private utility sellers and resellers. If in doubt, contact your providers.

Be sure to write down the time you contacted the provider, the name of the person you talked to, and what was said.

My landlord shut off my utilities. Can they do that?

No, your landlord cannot shut off your utilities. This is true even if you are behind on rent.

See more information on tenant utility rights here.

Also, the Texas Justice Court Training Center has made court forms to help you force your landlord to turn your utilities back on. You can get the forms here. 

Can I get help paying my utilities?

Maybe. The following programs exist to help people pay utilities:

This list is likely incomplete, so you may want to check with your city government or utility provider.

Additional Information