Texas Senior Advocates Issue Plea for Winter-Storm Utility-Bill Assistance

Roz Brown | Public News Service
A rare winter storm in Texas last month led to the deployment of the National Guard to conduct welfare checks and move many residents to one of 135 local warming centers. Photo Credit: Victória Kubiaki / Unsplash

AUSTIN, Texas — Responding to older Texans hit particularly hard by the massive winter-storm power outage last month, AARP Texas and the Texas Legal Services Center are asking for immediate financial relief for residential electricity customers.

In a letter to the state’s Public Utility Commission, the organizations noted many, including those dependent on Social Security benefits for housing and medicine, found it impossible to leave their homes for days on end.

Tim Morstad, associate state director for AARP Texas, said regulators need to step up for consumers now, and not wait until the state Legislature can address ways to prevent a future disaster.

“People are still hurting,” Morstad asserted. “They’re still in need. There’s actions that our utility regulators could take to make it easier for consumers.”

AARP and the Legal Services Center are asking the Public Utility Commission to prioritize relief for Texas consumers over relief for retail electric providers.

The Texas power grid manager was fired after the power blackouts and the head of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas resigned. In addition, the state’s largest electric cooperative has since filed for bankruptcy protection.

It’s estimated at least four million residential customers in Texas were without power and heat for days during the sustained sub-freezing temperatures.

Morstad pointed out AARP has heard from thousands of members about how the storm impacted them.

“And how they’re trying to put the pieces back together,” Morstad explained. “And as we go into these next few weeks it’s going to be like, ‘And my electricity bill came and it’s high and I wish I could get some help for that.'”

Morstad argued the Public Utility Commission of Texas needs to allow customers time to address high utility bills and navigate the market to protect themselves.

“So far, nothing out of our Legislature or our regulators really speaks to that,” Morstad contended. “There has been no lifeline.”

The storm and power outages have been blamed for more than 40 deaths, and possibly as many as 70.