Relief for Low-Income Households
BLOG POST | MARCH 30, 2020
By: Jacquie Moss, TEPRI Research Fellow
At TEPRI, we are keenly aware of how financial insecurity exacerbates health, stress, food insecurity, and vulnerability to crises. As the COVID-19 crisis rapidly unfolds, we are committed to keeping track of how the COVID-19 pandemic is compounding energy insecurity for low-income households across Texas. We are also trying to keep up with all of the relief programs and plans that are being invoked to anticipate and help those who need it.
We want to share a quick synopsis of what is included in the US government’s third emergency relief package as it relates to helping low-income residential energy customers. In addition to sending money directly to struggling Americans, expanding unemployment coverage, and providing subsidized loans to small businesses, this $2 trillion relief bill includes additional funding for programs that address the energy needs of households.
Referred to as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), this law includes:
- $1 billion additional Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funding to empower the 1,000+ Community Action Agencies (CAAs) that serve our nation’s most vulnerable people on a daily basis. It allows funds to be carried over by the recipient for the next two fiscal years, and expands recipient eligibility criteria from 125% of Federal Poverty Line (FPL) to 200% of FPL for 2020-21.
- $900 million additional funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to remain available through the end of fiscal year 2021 (September 30, 2021).
Speaking by webinar on March 26, David Bradley of the National Community Action Foundation shared that awareness of and support for the national network of CAAs is at an all-time high among Members of Congress and their staff. He emphasized that the work of serving low-income households is more important than ever.
It’s important to note that census data is used to determine the federal dollars to distribute to each state, US territory, and tribal government — including CSBG, Weatherization, and LIHEAP (in combination with climate and economic data). For every person not counted by the 2020 Census, it is estimated that communities could lose an average of $2,000 of funding for each of the next ten years, which is why it is so important to do our part to ensure that every person in Texas is counted.
LIHEAP is specifically designed to help with energy-related expenses. CSBG grant funding supports numerous social services. Once federal funds are allocated, the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs (TDHCA) distributes 90% of its CSBG funds to 40 CAAs across the state (the remaining 10% is used for administrative costs and discretionary programs). TDHCA also plans and administers LIHEAP grants, for which it has determined an income eligibility threshold of 150% of FPL.
Also late last week, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) took a big step to ensure that residential customers will be able to keep their power flowing. On March 26th, the PUCT issued an order related to its COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program that creates a temporary six-month exemption for disconnections and instructs retail electricity providers (REPs) to offer customers deferred payment plans. It applies to residential customers in areas of the state with customer choice.
To address industry concerns about bad debt, Thursday’s order includes a transmission and distribution rider to reimburse REPs in the event of unpaid bills. This statewide measure has been added to the list that the Energy & Policy Institute is maintaining to track which states and utilities are suspending disconnections amidst the crisis.
We plan to continue monitoring the landscape for additional information as it becomes available. In the meantime, we hope you and your loved ones are healthy and stay well.
As always, we welcome your questions, feedback, and suggestions. Please share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.