Written by: Valarie Morales, Climate Colectiva Promotorx
A lifelong organizer, I was born in El Paso, and raised in San Antonio. Growing up I volunteered as often as possible, helping my parents at different community events, and eventually branching out to help dozens of nonprofits in San Antonio throughout my youth and on into adulthood. Although my degree is in Chinese Medicine, I have always participated in our city’s political process working at the elections polls, doing voter registration campaigns, working on grassroots campaigns and political campaigns; including working for the mayor's campaign for a second term and the runoff election that followed. Even as a canvasser for Nirenberg's campaign some senior residents, in 2018, would talk about their $500 month utility/electric bills, and how they would often go without heating/ac; making do by warming/cooling themselves in their vehicles. High CPS bills are not a new issue, and for me this was just the beginning of my understanding of a larger issue.
Not long after my partner and I moved into our home, we found out that a neighbor a couple houses down from us had fallen ill. She was a quiet woman that walked to the bus stop every day on her way to work. She may have been behind on her bills, and I eventually heard that she was without electricity. A few days later she passed away in her home; we were in the middle of summer. I mention this story because I think it's important to acknowledge that in a city with extreme weather fluctuations; lack of power/electricity can be a death sentence for some of the most vulnerable.
Most recently, I became interested in finding out what the process was for applying for utility assistance programs, when I started talking with residents/CPS customers on behalf of the Climate Colectiva about the anticipated rate increases and inevitable disconnections that would eventually follow. Most customers were not surprised, but also did not support a rate increase; and a few elders were so confused about the process that they did not know what to do about the money they owed. One small business owner broke down in tears because she lived in fear that her electricity would be shut off. After emphasizing that CPS had said they would not disconnect anyone yet, and that I would let her know how to get assistance as soon as I could, she expressed gratitude and said she had not heard from anyone from CPS. My concern is that after speaking with other seniors it appears CPS has not made adequate attempts to contact them regarding their options for assistance programs or payment options.
I'm also very concerned that it seems like CPS is attempting to move forward with conversations about rate increases and disconnections with no regard/acknowledgement of the current wave of COVID infections.
As I started calling around last week, I noticed that there were gaps in the communication for resources.
I called CPS, after accidentally calling a spoof number that was online. After explaining that this client was unable to pay the customer service representative said, oh she can call me back and make a payment. Clearly she didn't understand or hear what I was saying, and after I repeated myself she apologized profusely and gave me two numbers. One a city phone number and the second for Bexar County.
After calling the city number and being on hold for 30 minutes, I called the county number which was disconnected. Then I tried another day, and the county number I was given worked now, but a recording told callers to contact 211. The city number was now disconnected.
Eventually, I did speak with someone from the United Way and they gave me some options, but seemed unsure what the programs consisted of and what the requirements were. One was the City of San Antonio Department of Human Services and the Second was the Texas Rent Relief Call Center.
When I called the DHS number I was able to get some information; but honestly the recording of the web-address sounded like "n" instead of "m" and I had to do an online search to find the website; and I would have liked to speak with someone, but was disconnected randomly. At this point I had spent an hour of my time trying to speak with someone about options for these residents that I want to support.
Apparently, now CPS has an assistance hotline which is great, but how are they notifying people that need it the most? The seniors I know don't spend time online, or have any kind of smartphone. Some barely even answer their phones; because they are so used to having spam calls even from CPS numbers. Now, CPS has provided a utility assistance number to their information.
I will be following up with a couple of clients to see how their experiences were. Hopefully, they have streamlined the process, but I'm not very optimistic.
If you are interested here are the phone number and links that we used to reach this information:
CPS Hotline: (210) 353-2222
Phone numbers give by CPS customer Service:
City of San Antonio
United Way Helpline: 211
City of San Antonio Department of Human Services (DHS) or call (210) 207-7830
Online List of utility assistance programs: https://www.sanantonio.gov/humanservices/FinanceEmergency/FamilyAssistanceCenters
Apply In person: Willie Velasquez Learning Center 1302 N. Zarzamora, SA, TX, 78207 M-F 8:00 AM-4:30PM
Texas Rent(Utility) Relief Call Center (Bill through the State): 1-833-9TX-RENT • 1-833-989-7368 Monday-Saturday • 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. CST • (Help is available in multiple languages.)