The San Antonio City Council unanimously on Thursday approved committing $30 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to help struggling residents with utility assistance.

Of the $30 million, $20 million will go towards helping CPS Energy customers and $10 million will help SAWS customers. CPS Energy customers could receive up to $1,000 toward past-due energy bills, and SAWS customers could get up to $700 toward past-due water bills, the city’s Director of Human Services Melody Woosley said.

Utility customers could see relief as soon as this next week, Woosley added.

The $30 million comes from the $326 million in ARPA funding that’s been allotted to the city for “fiscal and local recovery.” The first half of that funding was delivered in May, and the city expects the second half next year. That money must be fully spent by 2026. The city has already allocated $97.5 million to make up for lost revenue through 2023.

“We have thousands of people who are carrying large utility bill balances for both their utility bills,” Woosley said. “These funds will help the utility companies to pay down those balances on behalf of people who just have accumulated so much debt that they can’t get out.”

The $30 million could impact up to 20,000 CPS Energy customers and up to 13,000 SAWS customers, by either eliminating outstanding balances or reducing them, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told council members last month during a committee meeting.

San Antonio residents enrolled in a payment plan or affordability program with one of the city-owned utilities who can show proof of hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic are eligible, city Chief Financial Officer Ben Gorzell said Thursday.

CPS Energy and SAWS are not directly eligible for ARPA money, because they are entities of the City of San Antonio rather than stand-alone government agencies. To work around that, CPS Energy and SAWS will administer the applications, but be considered sub-recipients of the funding, Houston told reporters last month. The city’s Department of Human Services will oversee the reimbursement from the city to the utilities, Woosley said Thursday.

The utilities will be responsible for proving that customers meet three eligibility requirements: that they reside in San Antonio, are enrolled in a payment plan or affordability program, and have proof of hardship that occurred between March 2020 and September 2021. This funding is specifically for residential customers, not commercial accounts, Houston said.

“I just want to make sure that everybody understands we are not giving money to individuals who owe bills,” Councilman John Courage (D9) said. “The utilities are going to determine who is qualified and then will credit their bills for the money that we’ve provided them, and that will help clear the bills that many of these people may owe so that they can continue receiving services and not get cut off.”

CPS Energy has roughly $141 million in delinquent accounts, CPS Energy spokeswoman Nora Castro told the San Antonio Report, and SAWS is owed about $60 million, SAWS Vice President of Customer Experience Mary Bailey said.

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) asked utility representatives why city staff was recommending $30 million rather than a larger sum that could simply pay off all delinquent accounts.

Woosley said the $30 million figure came out of a city analysis and that it will help the people who are “in real danger of disconnection, who are the most in need.”

With a likely rate increase request coming from CPS Energy in the coming months, Perry said he would like city staff to consider possibly dedicating more ARPA funding for utility assistance in the coming months.

“It’s possible … that additional ARPA funds could be released for that, and that’ll be dependent on the community process that’s ongoing and the need for additional assistance,” Woosley said.

CPS Energy is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.