Young couple looking at calculator while paying bills
Another Record Month for EWEB’s Bill Assistance Program 05/07/2020

EWEB's Customer Care bill assistance program re-opened on Friday, May 1 at 9 a.m. By 9:04, 205 online applications were complete, and by 9:20, nearly 600 customers had applied online.

One year ago, this stunning rate of applications for assistance would have been unthinkable. For one thing, no one would have anticipated that a global pandemic would put thousands of EWEB customers out of work within a six week period. Since mid-March, more than 300,000 Oregonians have filed unemployment claims, according to the Oregon Employment Department.

Another reason—the operations behind the Customer Care program could not have handled that volume and pace of call-in applications one year ago.

In January of this year, EWEB made a major overhaul of the assistance program, bringing the intake process in house, creating a self-service web application that allows customers to upload their proof of eligibility, and automatically qualifying LIHEAP recipients.

"We've not only made it easier and faster for customers to apply for assistance, but we've also reduced administrative costs by around $350,000 over the past two years," said Anna Wade of Customer Solutions. "As a result, more funds are going directly to those in need, and less to administration."

In the first quarter of 2020, EWEB delivered $539,000 in bill assistance. Of that, $452,000 came through the rate-funded Customer Care program, and $87,000 resulted from customer donations to the Energy Share program.

Graph showing online customer care applications in the first hour

Within 20 minutes of opening, the web app for Customer Care bill assistance had processed nearly 600 applications.

Utilizing the self-service web app is key to a speedy application process, says Anna.

"We really encourage customers to use the online application because it can accept hundreds of applications simultaneously, compared to Customer Service Agents who can only help one person at a time over the phone."

Just a few minutes into the program opening on May 1, EWEB's phone queue was at maximum capacity, with 140 customers waiting to speak to a Customer Service Agent (CSA). Some customers waited more than 30 minutes.

"The first business day of the month is go-time for CSAs who sign people up for bill assistance, and the coronavirus has amplified the financial problems in our community, even for people who have traditionally been rock solid," said Customer Service Lead Mark Duvall. "With so many customers in need and limited resources to go around, it creates a lot of stress on our phone system, but we are all doing our part to assist as many as possible in these difficult times."  

By the time all applications are processed, EWEB will have distributed over $225,000 in the month of May, assisting more than 865 customers. Another $200,000 in assistance funding will be available in June, and by year-end, nearly 7,000 households could receive the EWEB bill credit.