Utility takes steps to fix Austin’s bill discount program

Utility takes steps to fix Austin’s bill discount program

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015

By Lilly Rockwell – American-Statesman Staff

After utility activist Paul Robbins exposed problems in the city’s utility discount program, with residents of higher-value homes being enrolled in a program designed to help poor people, Austin Energy has tightened up its screening process.

Austin Energy, which manages billing for all city utility services, uses a computer program to compare its roster of utility customers against the lists of low-income clients served by certain programs, such as Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps. When the computer finds a match, that customer automatically gets the utility bill discount.

Ronnie Mendoza, who runs the Customer Assistance Program, said the old way erred on the side of enrolling people who weren’t a perfect match. But that old system also made it possible to enroll people who weren’t really eligible.But the computer program now looks for a more accurate 95 percent match on the customer’s Social Security number and address, versus a 55 percent match before. That change, enacted during the spring, allowed Austin Energy to remove 3,400 accounts from the discount program.

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