How to Apply for PUC’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Program

In this article:

What is the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Program (CERP)?
Am I Eligible for CERP?
How Do I Apply for CERP?
If Admitted, Will I Still Receive a Bill? 
Who's Paying for This Program? 
Potential Scams Surrounding CERP Applications
What Can Energy Ogre Do For Me? Key Takeaways

 **This article was written on Thursday, April 23, but the details and particulars are changing rapidly. We will do our best to update the article as the situation progresses. 
Additionally, Energy Ogre is not permitted to enroll anyone, not even our own members, into the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Program.


What is the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Program?

Have you been laid off or struggling financially in the wake of COVID-19? If so, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) has created a program that may help alleviate the imminent need to pay your utility bills. Still, the program does not forgive or pay your balance for you. Texans who are unemployed or in a dire economic position can apply for the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Program (CERP), which will help consumers avoid disconnection of services such as electricity, sewer, and water until May 15, 2020. The PUC will evaluate things in mid-May to determine if they should extend the program. To ensure your home continues to receive these services, you must be first admitted into CERP. The program can be summed up by two main components: 1.) Retail Electricity Providers (REP) must offer a deferred payment plan to all residential customers who request one. Upon agreeing to a deferred payment plan, you will be considered a "switch-hold," meaning you can't change REPs until your balance is paid in full. Your past payment history does not matter in this case. 2.) REPs must continue supplying residential customers with electricity if they've been added to the state's unemployment and low-income list due to COVID-19. It's worth mentioning that residential electricity customers within the competitive areas will need to take an additional step to ensure their electricity is not disconnected through CERP. They will need to apply for the program, which we will go into greater detail about momentarily.  Do you know what "competitive" means in this context? And if so, do you know if that applies to your home.

Difference between Noncompetitive and Competitive

Texas is split into sections where electricity is purchased in different ways. Most notably, the two biggest subgroups are the: 1.) noncompetitive = electricity is sold by various utility companies, co-operatives, or public power entities (including municipal utilities) directly to consumers 2.) competitive = REPs sell electricity directly to consumers; therefore, this differentiation determines the way affected customers receive assistance. Thus the differentiation determines whether or not customers must apply for CERP. According to a PUC document, water, sewer, and electricity providers in non-competitive areas must suspend residential disconnections for non-payment until May 15, 2020. Currently, these orders give PUC-regulated entities a way to recover costs after the crisis by rate increases subjected to their entire customer base. As for the competitive areas, REPs must: 

  1.  Immediately offer a deferred payment plan to any residential customer who requests one.
  2.  Suspend disconnections for residential customers who have been added to the state's unemployment and low-income list due to the effects of COVID-19 until July 17, 2020. 
  3.  Suspend late fees to residential customers until May 15, 2020.  


Am I Eligible for CERP?

Residential customers must qualify for unemployment or be considered "low income" to be admitted into the program. Keep in mind residents of the non-competitive areas do not need to apply for CERP,  but Texans living in the competitive areas must. hor

How Do I Apply for the CERP? 

Those facing severe financial trouble stemming from COVID-19 can apply online here. You can also call the state's Low Income List Administrator (LILA) at 866-454-8387 to apply.  Due to the high volume of calls, their call center is operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Once you call, you must provide documentation of your unemployment benefits qualification within 30 days to be officially added to the list.  After providing the necessary info (including your name, electricity service address, and, preferably, your electricity account number with your retail electricity provider) either online or over the phone, you will be provisionally admitted into CERP. Your retail electricity provider should be notified automatically, but we encourage you to contact them personally to inform them of your CERP status. Please be aware that you should also tell your retail electricity provider immediately if your bill is due within 10 days of applying for the program. anchor

If I'm Accepted, Will I Still Receive a Bill? 

Those accepted into the CERP will still receive a bill each month like normal. Consumers are expected to pay as much as they can, given the circumstances. If the retail electricity provider receives payment on your behalf from the program, your balance will reflect accordingly. anchor

Who's Paying for CERP?

Just like any other product or service, electricity generation and distribution cost money. Consequently, CERP will be funded by residential and business customers in competitive markets via a new delivery charge of $0.00033 per kWh--which, on average, will increase a customer's bill by less than $0.50 per month. The new delivery charge will fund CERP, which will then partially reimburse REPs for customers that can't pay their bill. This helps ensure that REPs continue operating and providing electricity in this time of crisis, even if customers can't pay. As we mentioned earlier, receiving assistance from CERP does not mean customers won't have to pay their unpaid balances eventually. Consequently, REPs will collect unpaid balances from eligible residential customers once CERP ends. anchor

Be Careful, PUC Warns of Potential Fraud Attempts

Considering the prevalence of scams nowadays--both online and via telephone--it makes sense that there would be potentially fraudulent activity surrounding the CERP. On Friday, April 17, the PUC warned Texans that third-party intervention would be a fraudulent attempt to steal personal financial data. "I have directed agency staff to look into reports of companies using online advertising to promote a 'service' to enroll customers in CERP," said PUC Executive Director John Paul Urban, III. "Consumers need to know that all attempted enrollments in this unauthorized manner will be rejected. They should also be concerned about putting their personal financial information at risk in an online scam." You can read the PUC's entire press release here.

Energy Ogre Members Can Call Us with Questions

If you're an Energy Ogre member who has additional questions, or if you're a Texan who wants to enroll in our service, please give us a call at (832) 975-1000. Remember, we can't help you with your CERP application, but we can talk you through any pressing questions you may have surrounding your electricity. Oh, and we also give the BEST virtual hugs, so be sure to ask for one!  anchor

Key Takeaways

-CERP is a program created to help Texans avoid disconnection of their utility services like electricity, water, and sewer.  -Residential customers admitted to CERP will avoid disconnection through Friday, July 17.  Remember, that date can be pushed back by the PUC. -To apply, visit the CERP site or call 866-454-8387. Once in CERP, your electricity cannot be disconnected, but you're still responsible for the balance, which will increase with each unpaid bill. -Upon agreeing to a deferred payment plan, you will be considered a "switch hold," meaning you can't change REPs until your balance is paid in full. Be aware that the application process must be completed by you--any involvement from a third-party is an immediate sign of fraud.


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