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City of Austin halting evictions, utility cutoffs amid coronavirus concerns

No utility services will be disconnected for non-payments as the City of Austin continues to address coronavirus concerns.

AUSTIN, Texas — While the City of Austin reacts to ongoing concerns of coronavirus, or COVID-19, Austin Utilities will not be disconnecting customers' services for non-payment.

This comes as Austin Mayor Steve Adler and the Austin City Council work with other city officials to assist residents and businesses experiencing hardships due to COVID-19 and its economic impact.

Adler issued a Declaration of Local Disaster on March 6, allowing the City of Austin to take measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to COVID-19 and to promote the health and safety of all residents. That declaration was ratified by the council on March 12 to extend through April.

Austin Energy said it began reaching out on March 13 to residential customers who had recently been disconnected for non-payment. The company said it prioritized customers who may have had difficulty making payments at area stores due to long lines and staffing shortages. 

Austin Energy instituted courtesy reconnects, making payment arrangements that meet customers’ financial needs. The company noted that the Utility Contact Center must speak with the customer before implementing a courtesy reconnect. Austin Energy said it cannot automatically reconnect all accounts because it must obtain the customer’s authorization that services may resume in their name. Customers without services were encouraged reach out to Austin Energy at 512-494-9400 for help. 

Austin Energy also offers other programs that help customers stay on track with their bills:

  • Customers can be placed on a deferred payment plan. This will ensure the customer receives uninterrupted utility services as they work with utility representatives to develop a long-term plan that meets their financial needs.
  • Limited income customers and medically vulnerable customers may receive assistance through our Customer Assistance Programs. This will provide immediate and lasting utility bill relief for customers

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“As a municipally-owned utility, we are here to respond in times of need and support our customers who are experiencing difficulty paying their bills,” said Jackie Sargent, Austin Energy general manager. “We put a process in place to prevent service disconnections and make it easy to get help with utility bills during this difficult time.”

On Tuesday, Texas Gas Service said it was temporarily suspending disconnects due to nonpayment through April 15.

According to Councilmember Gregorio Casar, the City will also be halting all evictions and other proceedings temporarily.

Except for "essential court proceedings," all scheduled court proceedings set to happen before April 1 will be reset to another date after April 1. The Justice of the Peace defined essential court proceedings as one of the following:

  • Writs of re-entry
  • Writs of retrieval
  • Writs of restoration
  • Magistration of defendants in custody and of fugitives from justice
  • Issuing burial transit permits
  • Issuing of birth certificates 
  • Repair and remedy cases that materially affect the physical health or safety of a tenant

No eviction hearings will be held until after April 1, and no writs of possession will be issued by a justice court for 60 days after March 13. No warrants for failing to appear in court for a traffic violation, Class C citation, cite-and-release charge or a summons will be issued until 60 days from March 13.

As soon as the court can, the litigants will be notified of the new reset date.

On March 13, Austin Public Health confirmed there are now coronavirus cases in the Austin area. At least two cases are believed to be community spread, which means the illness did not come from an unknown infected person with whom they had come into contact. Updates on case numbers will be posted here.

Coronavirus symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath two to 14 days after exposure.

The City of Austin also provided the following information on additional services:

Immediate Housing Needs

"The Neighborhood Housing and Community Development (NHCD) Department offers information and referrals to assist impacted community members with immediate housing needs including resources for homeowners and resources for renters, including resources to avoid mortgage foreclosure and assistance for paying rent."

Food Assistance

"In partnership with Meals on Wheels, the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) will distribute curbside for seniors and their spouses (10 meals per person). Local school districts are also providing meals for their students. Visit the City of Austin COVID-19 website for up-to-date information."

Business Resources

"The Economic Development Department is offering services for businesses who may find themselves struggling in the coming weeks. They include free business coaching, emergency planning resources, and a Family Business Loan Program. Businesses with questions about the new Orders are asked to call Austin 3-1-1."

Workforce Services

"Texas Workforce Commission is where people can apply for unemployment benefits. They also have a helpful tutorial to guide individuals through the process."

Healthcare Services

"People with no insurance and no established provider experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms (e.g. fever, cough, shortness of breath) should call CommUnityCare at 512-978-9015. CommUnityCare will triage people over the phone and send them to the appropriate location. We are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rapid-response protocol. People with no established provider should call the number above rather than come in to a clinic to prevent any potential spread of the virus."

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