When low-income customers ask for help in overcoming financial hardships, a small but mighty team works behind the scenes to ensure they get the assistance they need.
Our Special Plans Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) specialize in administering several assistance programs, including TEP’s Lifeline program.
The five-member team, along with Business Process Analyst Edie Anderson, also processes emergency bill payment assistance provided by dozens of community agencies statewide and manages Budget Billing enrollments.
During the pandemic, the team’s workload increased significantly. Not only are more customers requesting financial help, but more qualify for monthly discounts from our company as a result of expanded eligibility. Additional federal funding also has been made available for utility bill assistance.
In 2020, the team processed 6,000 assistance payments totaling $3.8 million. This year, the number of applications increased to 18,000 and totaled more than $10.1 million through November.
“Our team is small, but they’ve done an outstanding job of keeping up with the increase in requests for bill payment assistance,” said Eileen Jacobson, Manager of Customer Programs and Services, who oversees the team. “They work very well together as a team.”
When customers contact a community agency to request bill payment assistance, the agency verifies their eligibility and then contacts our company to confirm the funding amount. The Special Plans team then processes the paperwork to ensure the correct payment amount is credited to customers’ accounts.
“That’s just one function they perform in addition to supporting several other programs,” Eileen said.
The team processes applications for TEP’s Lifeline program. This program gives eligible low-income electric customers a monthly discount on their energy bills. The CSRs verify customer eligibility, enter them into our system and recertify customers annually.
Additionally, the CSRs ensure that charitable donations to TEP’s Help with Emergency Energy Relief Operation (HEERO) funds are distributed to local agencies.
Finally, the Special Plans team supports customers who have enrolled in Budget Billing, a program that divides your annual energy costs into 12 equal payments so that you pay the same amount each month, making it easier to budget. The team adjusts the monthly amount annually if customers are under or over their budgeted amount, based on actual energy usage.
“While many other agencies have hired more people to handle the higher demand for assistance, we’re always conscious about keeping costs as low as we can, so we’ve kept the same level of staffing to process customer assistance,” Eileen said. “Our team has really stepped up to the challenge, and I’m incredibly proud of their work to ensure struggling customers get the help they need.”
Special Plans CSR Diana Watahomigie, who has worked at our company for 15 years, said she is proud of how her team has pulled together. “There’s so much need right now and it can be stressful and challenging, but we’re all very close as coworkers and friends. We come up with a game plan every day and all share in the workload.”