Austin City Council on Thursday night made it easier to turn the lights and heat back on in your home.
Before Thursday night, Austin Energy customers who had their service cut off due to non-payment would have to pay a one-time fee to get their power turned back on. That fee amounted to 50 percent of their delinquent bill.
“Then they had to pay the rest of it off in fifteen days and for most people that just wasn't possible," Council Member Kathie Tovo said. "We have a lot of people right now who are struggling.
Austin Interfaith Council saw that there were two sides to the problem: the poor were losing power and Austin Energy wasn't collecting its debts.
"We thought we could create a situation where there was a win-win, where Austin Energy would have a better chance of collecting their money and the poor could keep their lights on," Batlan said.
The new ordinance allows the utility to turn the power back on for those in delinquency once they pay their first month's bill.
"That helps them because their first payment is essentially a deposit," Carlos Cordova with Austin Energy said.
This is the kind of collaboration the city and community were looking for.
"We are being more collaborative than combative and hopefully we can keep up that tactic and keep moving forward," Batlan said.
About 17,000 Austin Energy customers are behind on their bills and must enter into one of the payment agreements. That's 1.3 percent of Austin Energy's customer base.