NY Ratepayer-Funded Programs Increase; Serve Over 1 Million
Ratepayer-funded low-income energy assistance programs in New York totaled over $100 million this year and are helping over one million households.
The programs have been steadily growing in size and funding since 2006 as the state’s regulators have negotiated increases with all regulated companies — six combination (natural gas and electric) utilities and four gas utilities as part of rate proceedings or mergers. Since 2006, funding and participation have more than doubled from around $40 million and about 450,000 households assisted.
Most programs provide monthly discounts ranging from $2 to $24 off the monthly fixed customer charge. The largest program, totaling $38 million, is operated by Con Edison, and provides a $9 monthly discount to 375,000 electric customers. Gas companies generally provide discounts on consumption up to a specified level; for example, Con Edison provides a 50 percent discount on the first 90 therms to 165,000 customers.
Some of the largest programs automatically enroll those customers receiving LIHEAP, SSI, TANF, SNAP and Medicaid. Five utilities provide arrears crediting to customers with chronic payment problems; if participants stay current on a payment plan then1/24th of their arrears are forgiven monthly.
Because energy services are essential to the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) since 1989 has approved targeted low-income assistance programs. In its rate orders, the Commission has repeatedly recognized that rate discounts to qualified, income-eligible customers can be an efficient way to maintain economically distressed households on the system.
It is the State's and the Commission's policy that the "continued provision of gas, electric and steam service to residential customers without unreasonable qualifications or lengthy delays is necessary for the preservation of the health and general welfare and is in the public interest." [Public Service Law, §30]
The six combination utilities are Central Hudson, Con Edison, National Grid, NYSEG, Orange and Rockland and Rochester Gas and Electric; the gas companies are Natural Fuel Gas, KeySpan New York, KeySpan Long Island, Corning and St. Lawrence.
New York utilities also fund energy efficiency programs for all customer classes, including low income, through a systems benefit charge. The primary program targeted to the low-income households is called EmPower New York, available to those who are LIHEAP-eligible, or participate in one of the above utility payment assistance programs, or have a household income below 60 percent of the state median income. For more information see the NYSERDA website.
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Michigan Receives $60 Million in State Funds for Energy
The Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS), the LIHEAP office, has received $60 million through legislative action earlier this year. Public Act 200 of the Michigan Public Acts of 2012 appropriated the DHS $59.9 million on a one-time basis, for the provision of energy crisis services.
The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) will administer a portion of the funds, at least $27.7 million, and has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in order to spend that amount. The DHS will administer the remaining $32.2 million and spend it through its LIHEAP crisis assistance component, which is called State Emergency Relief (SER).
The RFP seeks proposals from organizations that will provide energy assistance to low-income customers confronted with energy shut-off and maintain or develop preventative programs to reduce the number of shut-offs. Eligible clients are those whose incomes are at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
The $60 million legislation was at attempt by the legislature to replace the state’s Low Income and Energy Efficiency (LIEE) fund created in 2002 to provide low-income energy services and limited programs for non-low income customers through a surcharge on utility bills of the state’s major utilities. From February 2002 through September of 2010, about $500 million was provided through a competitive process overseen by the MPSC. Most years the LIHEAP office received a large portion of the funds and used them for energy crisis assistance through the SER program. The funds were also awarded to such entities as the Michigan Community Action Association, The Heat and Warmth Fund, a Detroit-based statewide fuel fund, and the Salvation Army.
In July of 2011 the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled the MPSC lacked authority to administer the LIEE funds and it could no longer disburse the funds. The legislature created the Vulnerable Household Warmth Fund and made $48 million available to DHS during FY 2012, while continuing to investigate a permanent fund for low-income households. Bills are pending in the legislature that would establish such a fund.
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FY 2012 REACH Grants Awarded
The Department of Health and Human Services has awarded FY 2012 grants totaling over $1.4 million under the Residential Energy Assistance Challenge (REACH) Option Program to three states, seven tribes and one territory.
Indiana, Maryland and Wisconsin all received $350,000 grants. The Northern Mariana Islands received a $50,000 award plus $10,000 for energy efficiency education services (EEES).
The following tribes received grants of $50,000 with an additional $10,000 for EEES: Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians (MI), Sherwood Valley Rancheria (CA) and Tinglit Haida (AK). The Choctaw Nation and the Delaware Tribe, both of Oklahoma, received $45,143, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of OK received $48,334 and the Association of Village Council Presidents in Alaska received $20,350.
Successful projects were designed to reduce energy vulnerability, minimize home health and safety risks, increase energy efficiency and target assistance to households most in need. REACH funds are awarded for a two-year grant period.
Visit the LIHEAP Clearinghouse for summaries of the recently awarded state and tribal projects and past REACH awards.
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