Years later, changes made to utility program benefiting some high-dollar homes

(KXAN Photo)
City of Austin view (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly three years after KXAN revealed Austin’s taxpayer-funded utility discounts — meant for those most in need — were going to some million-dollar homes, there’s finally a fix.

Consumer advocate Paul Robbins who alerted Austin City Council to what he calls a broken program, says he’s happy to see corrections included in this year’s budget. Years of work, validated with changes that are now in place.

“It’s kind of galling that this falls to one skinny guy to keep raising the alarm,” Robbins told KXAN back in August.

The way the Customer Assistance Program (CAP) works is customers are automatically enrolled if they benefit from any one of these low income programs:

  • Medicaid Program
  • SNAP
  • CHIP
  • Telephone Lifeline Program
  • Travis Co. Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program
  • Medical Access Program (MAP)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

If the person eligible for the discount lives in your home, no matter its value, it lowers your utility bill. Though automatic enrollment will continue, Austin Energy now has a specific removal process to weed out some of the households.

Customers will be removed from the program if:

  • The household income is greater than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and the customer’s homesite improvement value is $250,000 or more
  • The household income is greater than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and the customer owns two or more properties within Austin Energy’s service area

In August, Robert Cullick, with Austin Energy told KXAN, “Anytime you set up an automatic enrollment system you’re going to capture people you didn’t intend to capture. The percentage is extremely low, we’re working very hard to eliminate it completely and with this final step of being able to take people off the list, we’ll get there.”

The customer assistance program reaches 40,000 customers and helps reduce utility bills and average $650 a year.

Austin Energy says it’s currently working to remove customers who are “outside the scope of the program” and expects to have that done by the end of the year.

To learn if you’re eligible for the discount, you can call 855-319-6630 or mail this form to the city’s Customer Care Contact Center.

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