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Texas groups call for 6-month utility deposit waiver for Katrina victims

Special to CU.org

Texas consumer groups call for 6-month utility deposit reprieve for Katrina victims

9/12/05 — The Public Utility Commission of Texas is scheduled to hear on September 21 a petition by Consumers Union and other public interest organizations for a 6-month security deposit waiver for Hurricane Katrina victims.
On Friday, September 9, the PUC granted an emergency waiver for Katrina evacuees living in Texas, acting under Gov. Rick Perry’s emergency declaration. However, the waiver expires on September 30 unless extended.
Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) and Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy (Texas ROSE) — joined by AARP Texas, United Ways of Texas, Texas Association of Community Action Agencies, Consumers Union, Public Citizen Texas, Texas Tenants Union, Office of Public Utility Counsel and others — filed a petition to allow the hurricane victims to “establish satisfactory credit for electric and telephone service simply by demonstrating that they are a victim of the disaster and without having to pay a security deposit.”
If the petition is adopted, it would remain in effect for six months allowing more time for evacuees to transition from shelters, family and hotel settings to their own housing arrangements.
According to news media, approximately 250,000 persons have been evacuated to Texas, and over 100,000 remain homeless in temporary shelters. Security deposits to access electric, telephone and gas utility service can cost $300-500 per household, even before the utilities are connected.
“Many evacuees who might otherwise have had the means to pay a deposit have been cut off from bank accounts and other financial resources,” the petition states. “Many of those on fix incomes have been temporarily cut off from retirement and other benefits such as Social Security and Veteran’s benefits. Finally, many of the evacuees are low-income and simply do not have the financial means to pay a service deposit now that they are homeless and unemployed.”
The groups stated that focusing on the housing transition will also help relieve state and local public agencies from the mounting costs of keeping people in emergency shelters when housing becomes available.
Federal funds available to pay utility bills cannot be used to pay security deposits. Local assistance agencies have to raise funds from other sources to help customers pay security deposits. There are reports that some providers are waiving security deposit requirements for people moving out of the shelters but there is no across the board policy.
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Randall Chapman (Texas Legal Services Center) 512-477-6000;
Carol Biedrzycki (Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy) 512-472-5233