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LIHEAP Clearinghouse News Bulletin - September 2013

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New Michigan Program Emphasizes Crisis Prevention, Self Sufficiency

Earlier this year, Michigan launched a program designed to be more proactive in helping low-income households secure energy assistance. The goal, established through legislation is to help clients before they receive a shutoff notice (the previous practice) and create more of a one-stop experience for those in need, instead of shuttling them back and forth to various entities.

It started in July, when Governor Rick Snyder signed Public Act 95 into law, which allowed the Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve a surcharge on electric customers to fund low-income energy assistance. The Act, which allowed electric utilities to opt out of collecting the surcharge, limited the surcharge to no more than $1.00 per month on electric customers and limited the annual amount raised to $50 million. In late July, the PSC set the surcharge at $0.99 per month to abide by the cap. It announced that more than 15 utilities planned to participate, including municipalities, cooperatives, and three large electric providers, Indiana Michigan Power Company, Consumers Energy, and DTE Energy.

The $50 million from the surcharge was combined with $40 million from Michigan LIHEAP to create the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP), which is administered as a partnership between the PSC and the Michigan Department of Human Services (the LIHEAP grantee). The statute lays out the role that both entities play regarding MEAP funding. These entities began accepting grant proposals for MEAP funds to help low-income households meet their energy needs and become more self-sufficient.

In late October, the PSC and DHS approved over $89 million in grants to 14 organizations for the fiscal year that began October 1. The largest grant (about $15.5 million) went to The Heat and Warmth Fund, a statewide fuel fund, to provide services to low-income households in 67 Michigan counties. The PSC will be tracking and monitoring the grantees.

According to a law passed in 2012, 70 percent of MEAP funds have to be distributed during the "crisis season" of November 1 through May 31 every year. DHS changed the starting date for its LIHEAP crisis program to match with MEAP. This created some challenges for local agencies and low-income households this year, as they were accustomed to being able to access LIHEAP crisis assistance as of October 1, the start date in previous years.

Going forward, MEAP will mitigate the challenges encountered this year. Thirty percent of MEAP funding can be used June 1 through October 31. Since MEAP wasn't up and running this year until late October, these non-crisis funds weren't available. Also, some clients and local agencies relied on how LIHEAP crisis had been run in previous years and didn't notice that DHS changed its dates. With these issues addressed, the next heating season should run smoother.

While there have been some growing pains with MEAP and changes to Michigan LIHEAP's crisis program, many local agencies can see the long-term benefit. Measures promoting self-sufficiency are now available through MEAP once a home receives a past-due notice.

As outlined in their proposals, multiple MEAP grantees plan to combine monetary assistance for energy needs with financial literacy and case management. Many also discussed how their programs will address the larger financial problems of low-income households. For instance, Michigan Community Action Agency Association, through its 29 local agencies, will assess the capacity and needs of clients during intake and develop an action plan for each client. They will provide case management, energy education, financial counseling, and money management training. A summary of the grants funded can be found on the PSC website.

The Michigan LIHEAP Home Heating Tax Credit (information for 2013), which helps with energy bills year round, continues with no changes.

For background on the PSC-approved surcharge, see these two news items from July and August. For more information on the history of ratepayer-funded assistance programs in Michigan, see this profile.

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LIHEAP Clearinghouse Launches Redesigned Website

The LIHEAP Clearinghouse recently redesigned and reorganized its website. Launched in early December, the new website has three sections targeting different types of users — state grantees, tribal grantees, and people needing assistance with their utility bills.

Within the state and tribal sections, menus link to information in three key LIHEAP program areas — administration, delivery, and leveraging. Tables showing LIHEAP program characteristics such as poverty guidelines, benefit levels, crisis program variations, outreach activities, etc., are still available as they were on the previous site. The tribal section includes tribal-specific information including guidance from the LIHEAP Tribal Manual issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Each of the main menu items has numerous subcategories, so grantees may quickly access the information they seek.

The new site features new and updated information from state and tribal plans and other documents, especially in the areas of eligibility and eligibility verification. It also includes copies of 2014 state plans and Program Integrity Assessment Supplements, along with a newly-organized leveraging section that reflects current leveraging activities from ratepayer-funded resources, the single largest leveraged resource for LIHEAP.

Site visitors needing help paying their utility bills can find out how to contact the National Energy Assistance Referral hotline, operated by the Clearinghouse. Additionally, visitors can access a database to locate LIHEAP intake offices for their county or tribe, in addition to information about other assistance programs in their state, such as those provided by utilities or nonprofit charitable organizations.

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Consumers Beware: Prepaid Electricity Plans and Fees, Carol Biedrzycki, Texas Ratepayers' Organization to Save Energy, December 2013. The report documents how retail electric providers target low-income consumers. It looks at the prepaid services offered in the deregulated areas of Texas and compares them to each other and to traditional post-paid electric service. The report concludes that there is no evidence that prepaid electricity is in the best interest of low-income households.

2012 Home Energy Affordability Gap, Roger Colton/FSC Public Finance and General Economics, May 2013. This is the latest installment of an annual report detailing the gap between actual energy bills and what would be affordable energy bills for households across America. The data is broken down to the county level. The report shows a national affordability gap of almost $38.6 billion, which is an increase of over 200 percent from the initial report in 2003.

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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.
National Center for Appropriate Technology

News Bulletin, Number 21

January , 2014

In This Issue

New Michigan Program Emphasizes Crisis Prevention, Self Sufficiency

LIHEAP Clearinghouse Launches Redesigned Website

What's New on Our Website

2014 State Plans/PIAs

2012 Supplements Table

Updated Summaries of Programs Funded Through Public Benefits - ME, MT, PA

Low-Income Energy Events

March 3-7, 2014

National Association for State Community Service Programs' Mid-Winter Training, Arlington, Virginia. For more information, see NASCSP's website.

March 26, 2014

National LIHEAP Action Day, National Fuel Funds Network, Washington DC.

June 18-20, 2014

National Energy and Utility Affordability Conference's 2014 Conference, Kansas City, Missouri.


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