In the latest installment of our conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Sonia Singleton, assistant director in Neighborhood Services with the city of Fort Worth, explains how residents can get money to pay for utilities, like water, gas and electricity, free of charge.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For a longer version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Emily Wolf: It’s starting to get colder here in Fort Worth, which means having access to heating and electricity is more important than ever. What is the city doing to help those who may be struggling to pay for utilities coming into the winter season?
Sonia Singleton: The city of Fort Worth, through our Community Action Partners Program, which is administered in the neighborhood services department, provides gas assistance, electric bill assistance, propane assistance, all for low income households. It’s our intent to really take care of the highest priority (populations) and that for us would be someone that’s elderly, 60 and above, someone that has a household of children that are five and younger, or someone disabled.
Wolf: Where did the funding for this program come from?
Singleton: We work with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, we’ve received funding since 1982, believe it or not, for the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program. And we’ve been working on doing this job for years. It seems that when COVID came along, we became more popular, people found out more about us. Every year, we serve between 3,000-5,000 households. But my gosh, we have really been working even harder the last few years. So it’s a long standing program. And that is for the electric, gas and propane.
However, the low income housing water assistance program, that is a very new program that came about a couple of years ago. It was funded through ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act). And so at this point there is not going to be continued funding, like we have with the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program. But I do hope all of our partners across the state will help advocate for this to become permanent funding.
We’ve been able, with the water department’s help, to identify critical households that need assistance, we’ve had some households where people were extremely sick, had been sick for over a year, and had water bills that are in the thousands. And, thank goodness, we had this funding available for us to help them. It’s a humanitarian effort. But then it also becomes an economic effort for our water department to even try to come close to breaking even on those types of accounts.
Wolf: Y’all are hosting an event this Wednesday to help connect folks with these resources. If people have an outstanding bill, or perhaps they’re just worried about not being able to pay for the next utility bill, what do they need to bring with them in order to access services?
Singleton: We are using federal funds. And we have to confirm and verify all the information that’s provided to us. So we need your birth certificate because with this funding, and with the funding for electricity, we have to prove that you are a U.S. citizen, or a U.S. national, or a qualified alien ( a non-citizen who was lawfully admitted permanent residence). From guidelines from the federal government, we need to have proof of your residency, where you live, a copy of your electric bill, your gas bill, your water bill. And we have to verify your income, you have to fall within a certain income guidelines to be eligible for this program.
Wolf: Are translation services available for Spanish speakers?
Wolf: What if a resident can’t make it to the Wednesday event, but still needs help?
They can go to our website, fortworthtexas.gov/CAP and apply online. Or they can call us at 817-392-5795 and ask that an application be mailed to them. On our website, we also have the ability to download it. And if you happen to be in the Water Department’s office, we have some in the lobby too.
We also have sites where the application is available. Andrew Doc Session Community Center, Como Community Center … We have a site in Arlington off of Sanford in the United Way building … Martin Luther King Community Center, etc. It’s not a program limited to city of Fort Worth residents. Although the city of Fort Worth administers the program, we serve all of Tarrant County.
Wolf: Will there be more in-person events like this in the future?
Singleton: Yes, we’re hosting one Dec. 9. That one will be at our Como Community Center. And it will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Wolf: Is there a deadline for residents to apply for assistance?
Singleton: Most of our funding ends at the end of December. So our electricity, gas and propane is at the end of December, however, we have a new grant that begins in January for the water assistance program. The last day is March 31. So we are working really diligently to try to expend funds by the end of February. So we want people to get in and come and see us so that we can help you. We have a little over $2 million remaining for that program.
Wolf: Thank you so much for talking with me today. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Singleton: I’d like to say hats off to my comrades in the water department. They’ve just been really helpful. They’ve adopted this program as if it’s their own, to help promote it and provide staff because we understand that water and electricity, those are essential needs that we want our community to have access to. And so I truly appreciate their partnership.
Staff has been working extremely hard over the last few years because of the pandemic. And I appreciate them. And we’re here because we truly care about our community. And we’re able to serve our community with these types of resources. So we’re grateful for that.
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.