With the warm Texas days turning into an uncomfortably hot summer season, many are beginning to worry about the cost of cooling their homes. For lower income households, a federally funded program could cover the cost of utilities.
The Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program has provided $144 million in funds through the U.S. Health and Human Services to the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs for utility assistance programs across the state.
Texas residents who own or rent their home or apartment can apply, if they fall at or below 150 percent according to federal poverty guidelines.
“This assistance comes as many families and residents have been hard hit with financial challenges due to COVID-19 and loss of income,” TDHCA Sr. Communications Advisor Kristina Tirloni told the newspaper. “CEAP provides this assistance to both homeowners and renters, unlike some of the other assistance programs available right now.”
The funding is administered to residents through 37 Texas organizations that serve specific counties. For Wharton and Matagorda counties, the CEAP funding is provided through the Economic Action Committee of the Gulf Coast (EACGC) and the Galveston County Community Action Council.
EACGC began as interim agency for Wharton County in late May, and more than 30 households have signed up for the program since then, according to EACGC Executive Director Kristie Pustejovsky.
“Right now the guidelines are set at 150 percent of the poverty level for the area,” Pustejovsky said. “If you are within those guidelines, most likely they’re struggling to make ends meet and to pay bills and to get everything taken care of.”
How much a household receives to cover their utility bill or how long their payments are covered is based on their financial need and availability of funds. Once approved, the local program administrator, EACGC for Wharton County, sends payment to the energy provider directly.
Eligible applicants must have a maximum of $1,610 monthly income for a one person household. For households of two to eight people, the maximum monthly income is between $2,177.50 and $5,582.50. Households with elderly, disabled or children living there or with a high energy use/burden are prioritized for approval.
When filling out the application, scanned or photographed documentation is needed to apply, including proof of income for all adults in the residence, a current electric or gas bill, photo ID, proof of citizenship or residency and award letters for social security, child support, disability and more.
The funding given to EACGC is specifically designated for the utility assistance program and is returned to the federal government if it isn’t used, Pustejovsky said.
“We’ve got plenty of money available to spend,” she added.
Currently the utility assistance program covers energy costs for electricity, natural gas or propane, but not water. A program to assist low income families with water costs is in the works, according to Pustejovsky.
“As soon as that gets rolled out, we will be providing those services as well which we are excited about, because a lot of people need those as well,” she said.
Applications can be filled out online, or picked up from the El Campo or Wharton libraries. Specific days have been set for an EACGC representative to be at the library to help answer applicant questions and to help with the application process.
After the complete application and required documentation is submitted, processing could take up to 15 business days.
For more information on the Wharton County utility assistance program, or to fill out the application through EACGC, visit https://eacofthegulfcoast.com/utility-assistance. For help, call 979-245-6901 option 2. To file through GCCAC, visit https://www.gccac.org/application.
To find a CEAP-funded utility assistance program in another county, visit https://www.tdhca.state.tx.us/texans.htm.