LITE-UP Texas plan helps qualified low-income families with electric bills

Published on Monday, 17 March 2014 22:16 - Written by CASEY MURPHY cmurphy@tylerpaper.com

Christine Acy doesn’t always have the money to pay her rising electricity bills.

There have been “a lot of things I have to do without,” she said. “I don’t have the money every month to pay the bills.”

On Monday, Ms. Acy, 81, of Lindale, was at the Greater East Texas Community Action Program, registering for assistance with her energy bills. Ms. Acy lives alone and has seizures, so she has been living on disability since the 1970s. She said she felt blessed to learn that she could receive help paying for electricity.

D’Juana Dunn, 63, of Tyler, is Ms. Acy’s caregiver and told her about the assistance program that she has used.

“When I saw the high scale of Ms. Acy’s bill, I knew right then who could help her and they did,” she said, sitting with Ms. Acy in the program offices.

Karen Swenson, executive director for East Texas Community Action Program, was joined during a news conference Monday with representatives of People Attempting to Help, or PATH, and TXU Energy to get the word out about LITE-UP Texas, a government program that helps low-income families with their electric bills during the summer months.

LITE-UP Texas is available for customers of all energy providers.

“We do want to use that federal funding as best we can to help” people in East Texas, Ms. Swenson said, adding that they want to encourage anyone who think they might qualify to sign up for the program.

“You shouldn’t be worrying about how you’re going to pay those electric or heating bills,” she said.

East Texas Community Action Program provides a range of services, including energy and emergency assistance, in 12 East Texas counties. The organization helped more than 4,200 people in Smith County alone last year with their electricity, propane or natural gas bills, Ms. Swenson said.

“We see a lot of folks struggling with medical issues” who choose to pay for heating or air conditioning instead of going to the doctor or eating, she said. As gasoline prices continue to rise, some people can’t afford to get around, she added.

“They’re doing the best they can with what they have,” Ms. Swenson said.

Kim Campbell, senior manager for customer advocacy for TXU Energy said that with the LITE-UP Texas program, people can receive an 82 percent discount on their bills from May through August. In September, it drops down to a 15 percent discount.

People already enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Medicaid automatically qualify for LITE-UP Texas, she said. Families that have a total household income that is less than 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines are also eligible, she added.

Families who are not qualified for those programs but are in crisis because of things such as medical bills or job losses can get other assistance from federal programs or private programs, such as TXU Energy and PATH.

TXU Energy has the largest bill-payment assistance program among all electricity providers in the U.S., representatives said. Through TXU Energy Aid, the company has delivered $84 million to help more than 455,000 Texans in financial crisis.

The program is administered through about 80 social service agencies, including Greater East Texas Community Action Program and PATH. Through TXU Energy Aid, which helps people with their bills throughout the year, TXU has given $5 million for LITE-UP Texas this year.

Greg Grubb, executive director of PATH, also helps Smith County residents get the help they need through LITE-UP Texas during the summers, as well as TXU Energy Aid, which assists people with electricity bills throughout the year.

PATH helped more than 500 families with electric bills last year, and Grubb sees it as a homelessness prevention program. When people choose to pay their electric bills and may not be able to afford rent, they could be evicted, he said.

Ms. Swenson said the hot summer months can be a real struggle for some, who don’t turn on their air conditioning because they can’t afford to.

“There’s no excuse for that,” Grubb said. “They need to run the A/C if they qualify for that program.”