The City of San Antonio plans to propose using $30 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to help struggling residents with utility assistance, city officials said during a council committee meeting Tuesday.

San Antonio residents enrolled in a payment plan or affordability program with one of the city-owned utilities and can show proof of hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic would be eligible, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said near the end of the city council’s monthly Municipal Utilities Committee.

The proposal will go before the City Council on Nov. 18, Houston said.

The committee was also given high-level overviews of winterization preparations by officials from CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System Tuesday. Committee Chair John Courage (D9), Councilman Mario Bravo (D1), and Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) all demanded more in-depth reporting from the utilities.

“We would expect the next report to be much more specific and detailed about which recommendations have been addressed,” Courage said, referencing the recommendations made to each utility by the Committee on Emergency Preparedness, which was formed in the wake of February’s severe winter storm.

“These were very specific recommendations. They weren’t necessarily general, and I think the public would like to know very clearly that we are meeting those recommendations. I don’t believe this committee just wants to hear overviews. I think we’d like to know specifics.”

CPS Energy and SAWS officials promised in the coming weeks to present council members with documentation spelling out the specific changes and updates underway that would avoid a repeat of last winter’s disastrous power and water outages.

Of the $30 million ARPA proposal, city staff is recommending $20 million for CPS Energy customers and $10 million for SAWS customers, Houston said. CPS Energy customers could receive up to $1,000 toward past-due energy bills and SAWS customers would get up to $700 toward past-due water bills, she said.

The money could impact about 20,000 CPS Energy customers and 13,000 SAWS customers by either eliminating their outstanding balance or reducing it, Houston added.

CPS Energy and SAWS are not directly eligible for ARPA money because they are owned by the city of San Antonio and are not stand-alone government entities. There are also rules prohibiting the use of ARPA funds for the forgiveness of public debt. The city is working around these rules by providing ARPA funds directly to residents as a credit towards their utility bills. Residents must submit documented proof of hardship caused by the pandemic in case of auditing, Houston said.

CPS Energy and SAWS would administer the applications and be considered sub-recipients of this funding, she said. Both of the utilities would 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 at some point from March 2020 to September 2021.

This funding would only be available for residential customers, not commercial accounts, Houston added.

“The city is not going to be processing these applications,” Houston told reporters. “It’s going to go through each of the utilities. We are giving them money to run these programs and we’re providing the parameters for each of these programs.”

CPS Energy has about $100 million in outstanding balances from delinquent customers, said Rudy Garza, CPS Energy’s chief customer engagement officer, whereas SAWS has about $60 million, SAWS Vice President of Customer Experience Mary Bailey said.

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

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Lindsey Carnett

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