Electric Bill Help

Social service agencies in Harris and three neighboring counties are dividing up $2 million from Reliant Energy to help low income customers to pay their electricity bills. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Harris County Social Services will get the biggest share -- one point three million dollars in all. Fort Bend County Social Services gets 302 thousand, and Brazoria County Social Services and Galveston County Community Action get 201 thousand each. Harris County Social Services Deputy Director Sidney Braquet says more than two thirds of the 30 thousand people they helped last year needed help paying electricity bills.

"Probably 65 to 75 percent of our financial assistance goes to customers who need help with various utilities, and because electric rates have gone up dramatically over the last year and even beyond that, we've certainly seen an increase in the number of people who come to our agency for assistance with their utility bills."

Braquet says the best thing about the money from Reliant is that people don't have to wait till their electricity is cut off to apply for it.

"One of the things that we have historically required is that people facing utility termination come to us with a disconnection notice. Now what's different about the Reliant CARE program is that they don't require it, and they actually would encourage their clients when they call saying they're having trouble paying their bill to contact one of the social service agencies that receives CARE funding and not wait until they get the disconnection notice."

This expanded customer assistance funding is part of a package of rate reductions and customer benefits Reliant Energy is making under a rate settlement with the state Public Utility Commission. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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