This story has been updated.
While millions of dollars are still owed to San Antonio’s municipally-owned utilities from unpaid delinquent bills, they are struggling to give away millions in federal dollars allotted to them by the city for utility assistance.
As CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System work to connect customers whose past due bills are pandemic related with money from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, utility officials from both entities told the San Antonio Report Thursday that the number of new applications coming in has slowed, and they’re not sure why.
“We got the big wave [of applications] and we processed all of those, and we were able to help 4,000 people connect with $2.2 million,” said Mary Bailey, SAWS vice president of customer experience. “But now it’s definitely quieted down.”
Bailey and officials from CPS Energy said they are doing everything they can to get more residents connected to these ample funds.
In November, the San Antonio City Council unanimously approved committing $30 million in ARPA funds to help struggling residents with utility assistance. The city allotted $20 million to CPS Energy and $10 million to SAWS, with CPS Energy customers able to receive up to $1,000 in utility credit and SAWS customers up to $700.
To be eligible, a recipient must be a San Antonio resident, enrolled in a payment or affordability program with SAWS and/or CPS Energy, and must be able to show proof of hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That can be anything from a pay stub, medical bill or even a personal, signed letter attesting to the hardship. The application can be filled out and submitted online here for CPS Energy and here for SAWS, or at any of the utilities’ service centers.
Last week, Bailey outlined for SAWS trustees an outreach campaign that has included postcards, door hangers, robocalls, emails, community events, newsletter articles and social media posts, yet still only managed to give away a fifth of the total amount available.
CPS Energy has been waging a similar boots-on-the-ground, everything-goes approach, said DeAnna Hardwick, CPS Energy’s interim executive vice president of customer strategy. It has hosted utility assistance events, making calls and sending out e-mails and letters. It contracted with block walkers to leave door hangers and flyers. CPS Energy employees even knocked on doors to talk to people directly, Hardwick said.
“We’ve sent out 5,000 messages just through email and text alone, as well as we’ve knocked on 1,500 doors so far, and had about over 30 different events,” Hardwick said.
While roughly $2.1 million has been applied to past due CPS Energy accounts as of Thursday morning, the utility is still processing thousands of applications, Hardwick said. As of March 13, CPS Energy had received more than 13,000. Hardwick estimated that after processing is complete, the total funds distributed will be closer to $9 million. At this time, the utility is seeing roughly 100 new applications a day, she said.
CPS Energy has about $128.3 million in outstanding balances from delinquent customers, officials said, with about 162,000 residential customers being 30 days past due or more.
As of March 25, SAWS is owed just over $32 million in outstanding balances from residential customers, and has about 48,000 customers who are more than 60 days past due or more, Bailey said.
Bailey made several suggestions during the SAWS monthly board meeting last week for ways the city could help ease the process and get the rest of the money to eligible customers.
One of her proposals called for automatically qualifying certain customers based on where they live by targeting the city’s lowest-income census tracts. Another was to extend eligibility to outstanding bills that were racked up through Dec. 31, 2021, rather than Sept. 30, 2021, which was a city-issued deadline.
CPS Energy is also seeking for the city to extend the time period under which customers got behind, Hardwick said.
City spokeswoman Laura Mayes said the city has been working with the utilities to extend the timeline.
CPS Energy is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.
Correction: an earlier version of this story did not identify that CPS Energy employees knocked on customer doors.