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Gov. Abbott puts a hold on disconnections for utility bills

John Oliva
Austin American-Statesman

About 30,000 Texans still were without power Sunday but were close to having it restored, Gov. Greg Abbott said in San Antonio.

The governor also said the threat of disconnections is being removed as many Texans face substantially higher electricity bills.

Water outages remain the other major concern, and Abbott said he is focusing on that problem with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

As many as 15 million Texans — about half the state — are served by water systems that have experienced disruptions after bitter cold caused mass power outages.

"We continue to get updates during the course of the day as well as last night ensuring that water is being restored to communities across the entire state," Abbott said. "We understand the enormous challenges that our fellow Texans are facing right now because of either power outages or shortages of water."

Related:Why most Central Texans should be spared pricing spikes

Abbott said that more than 3 million bottles of water have been provided to Texas communities, partly through deliveries on military planes and helicopters.

Abbott said he plans to bring in more plumbers due to high demand for work on broken residential pipes across the state. On Saturday, Abbott announced plans to waive some licensing regulations to allow a plumber's apprentice to perform repairs without "direct" supervision by a licensed plumber.

Curtis Chaffin temporarily fixes some friends' pipe after it burst Tuesday. The couple said it filled their garage with a few inches of water before a neighbor let them know about the situation.

"We want to make sure we have the supply to meet that demand," Abbott said. "We urge everybody that may have broken pipes to call a plumber as quickly as possible. Also, you need to be sure that you call your insurance agent as quickly as possible. They should be working with you to make sure those pipes get fixed."

If residents don't have insurance, they may qualify for a Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement, Abbott said. President Joe Biden signed a major disaster declaration for Texas on Friday.

"We have had FEMA assistance granted by the federal government, and part of that is individual assistance that will assist individuals whose homes or apartments have been harmed because of the winter storm," Abbott said. "If so, you will need to document any type of loss you've had. You will need to be in contact with your local emergency response coordinator to make sure they have that information so that that calculus will be provided to the federal government so you can get a reimbursement."

Access to food is another challenge for Texans at the moment. Abbott said that with the snow and ice being cleared from roads, deliveries of truckloads of food to stores across the state will begin.

"Your grocery store shelves are getting restocked as we speak," Abbott said. "To assist that and speed it up, I have suspended regulations to get more trucks on the road to deliver food and supplies.

"I've also suspended regulations to get more kitchens to be able to prepare meals for Texans as long as those kitchens follow Department of State Health Services guidance on food safety. Also I have requested a USDA disaster declaration to help agriculture producers."

More:How to apply for Texas FEMA assistance, what you need to know

Editorial:Suffering Texans need leadership from Gov. Greg Abbott

More:Tales from the Texas cold: Struggles didn't stop when power returned

Shelves for water were bare at the H-E-B in the Circle C neighborhood in Southwest Austin on Wednesday. Parts of the neighborhood were without running water.

Some Texans, primarily those who opted for variable rate pricing with their electricity provider, have experienced skyrocketing electric bills due to high energy demand from the winter storm.

"I held an emergency meeting yesterday with legislative leaders to begin the legislative process to shield Texas families from unreasonable bills," Abbott said. "As we are speaking, there's a meeting being held by the Texas Public Utility Commission announcing this relief to issue a moratorium of customer disconnections for nonpayment."

During this pause, the state will also stop electric providers from sending customer invoices and will address challenges Texans are seeing from increased prices, he said.