Tucson nonprofits see surge in requests for assistance after power shutoff ban ends

TEP late bills

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The day has come when the lights may go out for some Tucson Electric Power customers, though not as soon as you'd think.

As a Phoenix woman died earlier this summer, a ban on shutting off power was instituted for major power companies like TEP.

Consumers could go throughout the summer months and not pay their bills - avoiding disconnection and late fees. That only lasted until Oct. 15, though.

That's where Nicole Cruz comes in.

She's a case manager at the Salvation Army and works with people who need help keeping the lights on.

"A lot of our families have not paid a bill since end of April, beginning of May," she said.

Which as we know, starts the beginning of the hottest and most expensive time of the year.

"Not only do they experience the crisis of not having electricity for a couple of days," said Cruz. "Very quickly it can snowball into getting evicted and becoming homeless, coming to shelters - sleeping in their cars."

Desperate times, that's why a ban on shutting off power when you didn't pay your bill was put into place earlier this year.

Now that we’re out of the summer heat, numbers from TEP show 7,400 people owe hundreds of dollars on their bills and turning to other agencies for help.

Those 'eligible for disconnection' owe more than $300 or more to the power company.

Because of that, the number of people turning to Cruz at the Salvation Army for funding have doubled. Cruz said they have federal and non-federal funds set aside to help, but they can’t help everyone.

"We're turning a lot of people away on Monday when they come," she said. "We're turning them away on phone calls when they're asking for assistance."

“People are very desperate to get this paid because they knew this Oct. 15 date was around the corner,” Cruz said.

That date meaning TEP can turn off the lights if your bill is past due.

Though a spokesperson for the power company said customers won't immediately be in the dark.

"It's not like we're going to end up cutting their power tomorrow," said Joseph Barrios.

Tucson Electric sent out letters detailing a four-installment payment plan for customers. Those with overdue bills should receive a letter in the mail.

If for some reason a person still can't pay their bill, there are other options to get help and pay.

The Salvation Army takes walk-ins at 8:30 a.m. on Monday. Anyone who shows up is entered into a lottery system, then brought in to see if they hit income qualifications.

Other non-profits take appointments. TEP recommends turning to Interfaith Community Services, the Pima County Communication Action Agency, or the Portable Practical Educational Preparation for short-term assistance. TEP also offers budget billing and flexible pricing.

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