Ever been in line at Starbucks, stepped up to pay, and learned that the gentleman in front of you bought your latte? Maybe it’s an iced latte during the Texas summers, but this type of thing happens, folks. There’s no doubt that Texas boasts hospitality, manners, and we love to give back.
So, have you ever thought about giving energy? No, not karma. But actual electricity? Chances are you might take for granted turning your lights on or the luxury of lowering your thermostat when the temp hits 100 degrees. But for many Texas residents, electricity bills can be a challenge that impacts homes and families. And our summer sun doesn’t help. With the close of the Lite-up Texas program, low-income households across Texas need the support of their neighbors for the basic need of working electricity.
Direct Energy’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor program offers continued support for over 30 agencies in the state of Texas. Founded in 2003, the program has helped over 53,000 customers pay their electric bill using funds provided by Direct Energy, and donations from its customers.
How Are Customers Giving Assistance?
It starts with Direct Energy’s contribution. From there, with every bill, customers have the option to add a donation to the Neighbor-to-Neighbor fund, which is funneled to over 30 assistance agencies throughout the state.
“It’s a lot like checking out at the grocery store and donating a canned food item or even just a single dollar,” says Direct Energy’s Senior Director of Operations, Matt Cook. “We have a simple model for our customers to help neighbors pay their bills and run their home.”
Direct Energy has made it easy to lend a helping hand at any dollar amount. Customers paying their bill online just check a box and enter their donation amount. If they have a paper bill, it can be added onto a check. Direct Energy is one of the few utility companies in Texas who provide funding to a bill assistance program through their own corporate contributions. Thanks to this corporate contribution, 2017 is shaping up to be a record year with over $700,000 provided to these agencies spanning across the state.
And to expand the opportunities to give, Direct Energy has partnered with Austin-based startup Gridmates to provide a new platform for customers to make donations to the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program. The partnership will allow customers insights into their energy savings from month-to-month to use those savings towards donations, and share it out to their social communities. The new platform is expected to roll out later this year.
How Do Customers Get Assistance?
Customers who are under 200% of the federal poverty guideline may qualify for funds to help pay their bill and can receive up to $700 a year through the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program.
Communications and awareness are key. Customers who are past due on their electric bill are notified about the program using call blasts, flyers, and through educational resources on the Direct Energy website. Customers’ bills include contact information for assistance agencies as well. In-person outreach is a regular interaction at festivals and events in Texas, spreading the word about the good the program does, and how to contact an agency for help. Neighbor-to-Neighbor partners with agencies involved in the program for events and fundraisers throughout the year, and even organizes events that provide school supplies and backpacks to kids, thanksgiving baskets for families, and toy events around Christmas.
What Kind of Assistance Are Customers Offered?
Help agencies can offer a variety of assistance programs, including utility assistance. Food pantries, head start programs, rent/ mortgage assistance, or job services are just a few of the programs provided at many assistance agencies. Weatherization programs can help customers with energy efficiency upgrades in their homes to help them save money on their bills. Federal funding is provided for utility assistance, and the partnership with the Neighbor-to-Neighbor bill assistance program helps agencies stretch customer assistance further by supplementing months where federal funding is not available.
“We recognize that Texans, anyone, can hit financially challenging times, and we want to make it easy for other customers to help them out,” says Cook. “It might just be electricity, but it’s spreading good energy from one home to another.”
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The Energy Department
From the oil fields of West Texas to the climate change debates in Austin to the wind turbines in the Panhandle, energy is ever-present for Texans. The Energy Department is a collection of stories, tips, and guides on how energy impacts you, your home, and your community. Read more thanks to our sponsor, Direct Energy.