NH PUC Changes Electric Assistance Program
The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has made changes to its low-income Electric Assistance Program (EAP) that are designed to sustain the program in the face of enrollment increases and funding limitations.
The EAP provides eligible low-income customers electric bill discounts ranging from 5 percent to 70 percent, depending on household size and income. Recent EAP reports show its enrollment reached around 36,000 households this past year with a waiting list of 5,455. The current funding of about $16 million annually will decrease by June 30, 2011, as will the sustainable enrollment and average benefit levels.
With that scenario in mind, the PUC on March 4 approved an order eliminating one of the discount levels within the EAP, reducing income eligibility level from 185 percent of federal poverty guidelines (FPG) to 175 percent FPG, and capping the amount of monthly electric usage eligible for the discount at the first 700 kWh of a customer’s bill. The tier to be eliminated provides a 5 percent discount to customers with incomes between 176 and 185 percent of FPG.
With these changes, the PUC projects that the sustainable enrollment level for EAP will fall to around 33,000, the wait list will be reduced to around 2,500 and the average benefit will go from about $450 to $388.
Since March 2005, demand for the EAP has exceeded the number of households to whom benefits could be provided given the EAP funding level. In 2006 and again in 2008, the PUC revamped the EAP in order to increase the number of discount recipients. Additionally, legislation in 2005 and 2010 increased EAP funding on a temporary basis, allowing the program to provide benefits to more customers for a limited period of time (through June 30, 2011).
The EAP is funded through a systems benefit charge (SBC) on all electric customers’ bills; it also funds the state’s CORE Energy Efficiency Program, which includes conservation programs for all customer classes, including low income. The above-mentioned legislation temporarily swapped the funding amounts received by each program, providing larger amounts for the EAP, in response to increased need. However, the PUC and its advisory group concluded that such funding increases were unlikely in the future.
In a related matter, the PUC in October released a report on the effectiveness of the SBC program. The report focused on whether the EAP had met the level of need within the limits of the available SBC; whether it conformed to program design guidelines; and whether it operated efficiently. The report concluded that the EAP accomplished those three objectives overall; it also provided some recommendations for the consideration of its advisory board and the Commission, including the changes made through the March 4 order.
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HHS/ACF Creates LIHEAP Program Integrity Working Group
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF)/Office of Community Services (OCS), has contracted with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), through NCAT’s LIHEAP Clearinghouse, to organize and convene a working group on LIHEAP program integrity.
The group is part of OCS’s response to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report of June 2010, titled: “Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: Greater Fraud Prevention Controls are Needed.”
The GAO report reviewed LIHEAP records and procedures in seven states and found that LIHEAP benefits had been issued to persons who were likely ineligible because they were deceased, in prison, in nursing homes, or had invalid Social Security numbers or were over-income.
The report concluded that LIHEAP appears to have weak internal controls and that programs in the seven states appeared to lack the crucial elements of a well-designed fraud prevention system: preventive controls, detection and monitoring, and investigations and prosecutions.
The working group, along with the NCAT coordinators, will respond to the issues raised by the GAO report, and, in the process, strive to help LIHEAP grantees strengthen program management and internal controls, enhance program integrity, and thereby improve the quality and delivery of LIHEAP services.
The group will meet monthly during 2011 to review LIHEAP program integrity systems. Following the 12-month review period, the group will submit recommendations to OCS that identify potential solutions and standards for program integrity systems at the grantee and subgrantee levels.
The group represents each region and is comprised of state LIHEAP directors from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, Montana, Arizona and Oregon; LIHEAP subgrantees from Colorado, New Hampshire, California and New York;, as well as two tribal and territorial representatives. It also includes representatives from the National Energy Assistance Directors Association and the National Association for State and Community Services Programs, along with representatives from the U.S. Social Security Administration and the SNAP and TANF programs.
For more information, contact Kay Joslin or Sherry Vogel of the NCAT coordination team.
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NEUAC Online Registration Available
Online registration for the National Energy and Utility Affordability Conference (NEUAC) is now available. The conference will be June 27-29 at the Marriott Harbor Beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
To register online, go to the 2011 Conference main page and click on “2011 Registration” in the menu bar, which accesses NEUAC’s secure registration site. The early bird rate is available through May 13 (applications must be postmarked by that date).
Two plenary sessions are planned for NEUAC 2011. The first, on Tuesday, June 28, is titled “Where Electricity Comes From: Does it Matter to Consumers?” Wednesday morning’s plenary session is titled “State Regulatory Commissions: Low-Income Issues and Advocacy.”
On Monday, June 27th (session 3), the conference will include a workshop on program integrity that will discuss the program integrity assessment and status of the working group. Another workshop will be led by members of the LIHEAP Performance Measures Implementation Work Group on developing partnerships to implementing LIHEAP performance measures, which will be held on Wednesday, June 29th (session 7).
Additional conference details such as workshop schedules and logistics are available in the downloadable registration brochure, which has also been mailed out to thousands on the conference mailing list, including last year’s attendees.
Presented by the National Fuel Funds Network and National Low Income Energy Consortium, the three-day event is the largest single U.S. gathering to address the need for affordable home energy and other utilities for people with low income. It is preceded by the annual meeting of the National Energy Assistance Director’ Association, to be June 26 and the morning of June 27 at the same location.
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The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, organizations or program activities imply endorsement by the U.S. Government or compliance with HHS regulations.