Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston).
Photo Credit: Sylvester Turner

Texas summers are anything but mild, especially when it comes to paying for electricity. These scorching months can be particularly difficult for low-income Texans. Fortunately, many will be eligible for bill discounts starting in September. However, the deadline to sign up for this program is quickly approaching.

At a recent press conference, state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, urged low-income Texans who qualified for the program to apply before the Aug. 10 deadline. Those participating in the program, known as LITE-UP Texas, will see an 82 percent discount on their September electric bill. Participants will also qualify for discounts on their bills from May through August of 2014.

An electricity consumer qualifies for the LITE-UP Texas program if they currently receive Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Customers are also eligible if their household income is at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

LITE-UP Texas is financed through a special fund — known as the System Benefit Fund — that was created in 1999 as part of the electric deregulation law. Texas citizens and businesses pay a small monthly fee on their electricity bills to finance the fund, which currently has a balance of more than $800 million. The fund balance has grown so large because for many years the Texas Legislature did not use it for its intended purpose, and instead played accounting tricks with the money to balance the state budget.

But during the most recent legislative session, lawmakers voted to again use the money for its intended purpose — increasing the discount from 16.5 percent to 82 percent — but then to permanently discontinue the fund when it”s depleted in 2016. The discount applies only to those Texans living in deregulated areas of the state, which excludes Austin, San Antonio, El Paso and other areas.

“It is important to get all eligible people into the system now. The legislature approved this increased discount because we understand how desperately our most vulnerable Texans need this help. I don”t want to see anyone who qualifies overlooked,” said Representative Turner.

Individuals interested in participating in the LITE-UP Texas program can acquire a self-enrollment application by contacting the Public Utility Commission, toll-free, at 1-800-454-8387 or visiting their website.

The System Benefit Fund also finances the state”s website, which was created to help Texans shop for electricity in the deregulated market. It remains unclear how that website will continue once the System Benefit Fund is depleted.

— Jonathan Coker