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LIHEAP Clearinghouse News Bulletin - March 2014

Arrearage Management Programs Coming to Maine

Maine is on track to join another dozen or so states that have implemented Arrearage Management Programs (AMPs) for low-income households. Under these programs, participants enroll in affordable utility bill payment plans, and, if they adhere to their payment requirements, they can pay down their arrearages over time.

In mid-April, a legislative proposal requiring the creation of AMPs became law in Maine. The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is now gathering information for its rulemaking process in order to get AMPs in place by the new law's deadline of October 1, 2015.

The new law, called "An Act to Assist Electric Utility Ratepayers," requires each transmission and distribution utility to implement an AMP, and it directs the PUC to establish AMP requirements through its rulemaking process.

From an earlier inquiry, the PUC already has some preliminary data from utilities showing the need for AMPs. In a 2013 docket, it asked utilities to report how many customers were at least 90 days behind on their bills and how much money those customers collectively owed. The utilities reported as follows:

Utility

Number of Customers

Amount Owed

Bangor Hyrdo Electric Company

4,671

$3.26 million

Central Maine Power

22,630

$15 million

Emera Maine

6,317

$628,000

Maine Public Service Company

1,796

$775,000

TOTAL:

35,414

$19.633 million

Source: Maine PUC, Docket 2013-00474

In addition to assistance with utility bills, the Act also promotes energy efficiency for low-income households. It states that the ratepayer-funded Efficiency Maine Trust will work with utilities and other stakeholders to "provide access to a complementary low-income energy efficiency program" for AMP participants to reduce their energy consumption. Finally, the Act requires the PUC to report back to the legislature about AMP performance no later than the end of January 2018.

In late May 2014, the PUC published a Notice of Inquiry to gather information related to AMP design. It proposed a list of questions for interested parties to answer, which includes:

  • Which distribution and transmission utilities should be required to offer AMPs?
  • Should eligibility follow LIHEAP criteria or a different means-tested standard?
  • Should the PUC create one statewide AMP or let individual utilities create their own AMPs?

The PUC asked that all comments and information be submitted by July 11, 2014. It also encouraged people to consult a 2013 report by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) on Massachusetts' AMP.

Among the other states with AMPS, some, such as Massachusetts, have statewide, mandated programs; among others, arrearage forgiveness is offered by some utilities along with other rate assistance. To read more about AMPs and other ratepayer-funded assistance programs, see the state overviews on the LIHEAP Clearinghouse website.

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Publications Highlight LIHEAP and WAP Leveraging Strategies

Two recent publications provide guidance and helpful examples regarding leveraging under LIHEAP and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). Under each program, leveraging provides a vital role in helping to supplement federal funding and provide additional low-income energy resources to eligible households.

The first report, "Approaches to Low-Income Energy Assistance Funding in Selected States," is a research brief prepared by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The second, a 32-page guide titled "WAP Income Generation and Leveraging – A State's Perspective," was prepared by the National Association for State Community Services Programs (NASCSP), which represents state WAP directors. A brief description of each follows.

After providing background on leveraging nationwide, the ASPE brief features leveraging strategies in six selected states: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan. It profiles several promising practices within each state that other states may want to consider as they confront limited federal energy assistance funding. It also describes the strengths and innovations of each state’s leveraging strategies, as well as the challenges they face.

While each state has unique approaches that are not necessarily replicable, the brief identifies common themes related to successful leveraging among the selected states, including the existence of:

  • Formal commissions and councils involving key stakeholders
  • Strong local-level networks
  • Varied private fundraising initiatives, and
  • Private ratepayer funds

The NASCSP guide provides resources and strategies for states to use when developing and supporting partnerships that provide additional resources to complement federal WAP funds. Like the ASPE brief, it highlights the importance of private partners, including utilities, in providing additional funding and resources. Also important are the leveraging activities that generate the funding, usually carried out by associations of WAP subgrantees or a designated lead local agency.

The guide also explains the importance of the role of the state WAP office (which in many states is the same as the LIHEAP office) in conducting leveraging activities. It includes a link to an interview with Steve Payne, Washington WAP official, who explains how that state's decision to make a commitment to invest in a permanent leveraging initiative in 1993, called "The Energy Project," has paid off many times over.

"The most successful and long-term weatherization utility leveraging initiatives are in states where a commitment was made at the state level to support a leveraging initiative," Payne says.


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LOW INCOME ENERGY PUBLICATIONS

U.S. Consumers' Energy Spending Rose This Winter, U.S. Energy Information Administration, May 21, 2014. The report finds that consumers paid more for energy expenses during the 2013-2014 winter than they did during the 2012-2013 one. This included 10 percent more for electricity, 16 percent more for natural gas, and 27 percent more for heating oil/propane.

Utility Low Income Customer Assistance in 2012, American Gas Association, April 2014. The report details how utilities provided about $3.7 billion in assistance to low-income customers in 2012.


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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 23

June 2014


In This Issue

Arrearage Management Programs Coming to Maine

Publications Highlight LIHEAP and WAP Leveraging Strategies


What's New on Our Website

Issue Brief: LIHEAP Administrative Cost Savings

Report: LIHEAP Crisis Components

Report: Prepaid Utility Service, Low-Income Customers and LIHEAP

Issue Brief: LIHEAP Fiscal Program Integrity

Tribal Plans


Low-Income Energy Events


September 9-12, 2014

NASCSP Annual Conference, Raleigh, NC. See the NASCSP website for more details.


October 27-30, 2014

Innovation Conference, National Community Action Foundation, St. Petersburg, FL. See the NCAF website for more information.


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