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Energy Assistance Includes Utility Programs

November 7, 2014—The beginning of November finds most LIHEAP programs up and running. At the same time, many utilities across the country are reminding customers that they offer low-income assistance, too. It's not uncommon for these utilities to partner with LIHEAP programs and/or the local agencies administering the federal assistance.

In Indiana, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) has publicized its Customer Assistance for Residential Energy (CARE) program, which is administered by local LIHEAP agencies. CARE uses the same income eligibility as LIHEAP (up to 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines) and offers bill reductions between 11 percent and 26 percent for LIHEAP-eligible customers. The amount of the reduction is determined by the same criteria used to calculate a household's LIHEAP benefit. NIPSCO customers receiving LIHEAP are automatically enrolled in CARE.

Another example of a utility program partnering with LIHEAP can be found in Washington. The Snohomish County Public Utility District offers discounts of 20 percent, 40 percent, or 60 percent to seniors and low-income households. The amount of the discount is based on a household's income (the lower the income the higher the discount). The Utility District partners with local LIHEAP agencies, and any customer receiving LIHEAP is automatically enrolled in its discount program. Both programs use the same income eligibility level of up to 125 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

In Michigan, Consumers Energy's low-income program operates alongside the LIHEAP crisis program. The utility's Consumers Affordable Resources for Energy (CARE) offers a 40 percent credit on monthly bills through September 2015. It also freezes outstanding balances, which are reduced over time as long as the CARE participant makes regular payments.

The utility supports CARE through a grant from the Michigan Energy Assistance Program, which is jointly funded by the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Michigan Department of Human Services (the LIHEAP grantee). More information about the grants can be found here.

Consumers Energy contracts with local agencies and non-profits to administer CARE. Most of these local entities also administer Michigan LIHEAP's crisis program, which opened at the beginning of November. Both CARE and LIHEAP crisis use income eligibility up to 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines. Consumers Energy hopes to assist about 14,000 customers this year with CARE.

For a look at other energy assistance programs offered around the country, please see the Clearinghouse's state snapshots.

Sources: Media reports