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Austin Energy assists thousands affected by Covid-19

Tuesday, June 2, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Since April 9, Austin Energy has given 3,200 residential customers $897,000 in bill relief – nearly nine times the amount of financial assistance the utility typically affords through its Plus 1 Emergency Financial Support Program. The Plus 1 Program provides immediate help to customers who are having financial difficulties and are unable to pay their utility bills due to unexpected emergencies. “In just over a month, we have provided more assistance than any other month in the history of this program,” General Manager Jackie Sargent said at the June 1 meeting of the Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee. Since the beginning of the fiscal year, the utility has offered $1.94 million in bill relief to 7,000 customers. Vice President of Customer Care Jerry Galvan said, “The customers that have needed help have been able to get help very quickly through the process.” However, Council Member Alison Alter pointed out that not all eligible customers can benefit from the program; for instance, customers in multifamily units. Elaine Veselka, the vice president of customer account management, explained that when complexes share one meter instead of being individually metered, it can be a challenge to offer individual assistance. In such cases, she says, the energy utility is left with the task of determining how to make sure the right residents get the benefits. While Council members on the dais agreed that a long-term solution was needed to aid low-income customers using a shared meter, in the short term, Council Member Alter suggested purposefully targeting low-income residential complexes. “I just think that might be important relief that we could offer,” she said.

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