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Utilities Department to end assistance program

The Utilities Department director Arturo Garcia says it’s time to end its assistance program and no-disconnect order.
Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 10:10 PM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - The pandemic and the winter storm left many across the U.S. and here in Laredo scrambling and struggling to pay their bills.

That’s why many governmental departments began offering assistance, including the Laredo Utilities Department.

However, that is coming to an end.

In just one month, customers who received assistance can expect a little less leniency on unpaid bills.

”There’s been a delay in customers wanting to pay their bills,” said Arturo Garcia. “They know they’re not going to get punished. They’re not going to get disconnected. They’re just holding off, not only residential but also businesses.”

This is why the Utilities Department director Arturo Garcia says it’s time to end its assistance program and no-disconnect order.

He says about 80% of customers who benefited were abusing the system.

”What happens to that 20% who have been affected by COVID? Have they been identified? How would we be affecting them by disconnecting and leaving them without water services?”

In Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Garcia presented the fiscal implications on the City of Laredo citing an increase of 5,000 past due accounts, all of which would be directly affected by resuming the disconnection process for late or past due accounts.

The COVID-19 utilities relief program provided more than $907,000 to around 1,400 customers.

City council voted unanimously to move forward with discontinuing the utilities assistance program.

Those who received assistance will no longer get up to $125 per month towards their bills, late fees and credit card fees for online payments will resume, and disconnections will be made on unpaid accounts.

This will take effect by May 3.

The city council is requiring the utilities department to reach out to all 5,000 customers and notify them 30 days in advance, and they are offering a deferred payment plan program to help customers who are struggling to pay their bills to get on a payment plan.

The deferred payment plan application can be found here.

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