Houston water bill help fund drying up

HOUSTON Around the country, some utility companies are seeing a lot more people fall behind on their bills. While there is help available here, one fund is already running low.

The city of Houston W.A.T.E.R. Fund is helping more people this year than in the past and giving out more money to those who qualify. As a result, the fund is starting to run dry.

"Gas is going up, water is going up, electricity is going up and they only get one check from Social Security which is not enough," said Paul Regaldo of Houston.

The city has money set aside to help seniors pay their water bills, but public works officials say that fund is starting to dry up.

"We have seen an increase," said Alvin Wright of the City of Houston Public Works Department. "We predict there will be more people actually applying for it and our biggest concern is that we don't want to have individuals apply for the funds and the funds not be available."

City officials believe there is enough emergency money in the W.A.T.E.R. Fund to last just four to six months. That's why the city is trying to get the word out to its customers that anyone can contribute to the fund by checking the donation box on their water bill. The donation is just a dollar.

"All that money goes to assisting the elderly and senior residents with their water bills," Wright said.

Water bills are not the only place where people are going to need help. The cost of natural gas has been rising steadily and if customers can't pay, they may be able to get help from CenterPoint Energy.

"We are not seeing any greater disconnects because people are having difficulty paying their bills," said Alicia Dixon of CenterPoint Energy. "But for those that are, there are assistance dollars available. They need to contact us and we can get them in touch with those agencies."

Dixon says the biggest need for help comes during the summer and consumers should brace themselves for higher costs.

"Even though we don't send electric bills, it can impact your electric bills as well because so much of the generation in Texas is powered by natural gas," Dixon said.

We spoke with the Public Utility Commission of Texas about the possibility of paying more for electricity this summer. Officials say as the cost of natural goes up, consumers can expect increase. The best idea is to lock in an annual rate before summer starts to help minimize the natural gas spikes.

If someone needs help, where do they turn for help? There are Web sites for the city water fund and for Harris County Social Services. We have links to both on The Consumer Blog.

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