July 3, 2015—The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) recently approved a two-year pilot program for Spokane-based Avista utilities to offer rate discounts to seniors living on fixed incomes and customers with disabilities.
The commission's order, announced last week, approves an additional $700,000 in funding to expand energy assistance to serve these populations if they have income levels between 126 and 200 percent of federal poverty lines. Avista predicts the average annual benefit amount will be $300 per participant. This order is an expansion of Avista's current Low-Income Rate Assistance Program (LIRAP) which offers a one-time grant to customers whose income is below 126 percent FPL. As part of the requirements for funding, Avista must contract with a third-party company to evaluate the impact of the program and report its findings to the WUTC by the end of 2017.
This is an example of the many programs and discount rates that can be found for seniors and people with disabilities. Throughout Washington state and across the country, it's common to find utilities offering discounts of some kind to these community members. Outreach and education about these offerings is critical. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) estimates that over $20 billion in various benefits for which seniors are eligible go unclaimed every year. NCOA offers an online Benefits Checkup for seniors to check their eligibility. For those who need more personal assistance, it also offers Benefits Enrollment Centers across the United States where seniors and those with disabilities can come to "find and enroll in all the benefits programs for which they are eligible, and create coordinated, community-wide systems of benefits access." These centers are funded with support from the "Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA)" and are administered through the U.S. Administration for Community Living (ACL).
Sources: Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, National Council on Aging