RESEARCH AREAS – Bill Payment Assistance 2017-02-06T15:27:49+00:00

Bill Payment Assistance Programs

Many different sources of energy bill payment assistance are available for low-income families. Federal, state, and utility-level sources of assistance include:

  • LIHEAP – The federal Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides heating, cooling, and crisis assistance grants to low-income households.
  • Universal Service Programs – State Universal Service Programs provide low-income households with bill discounts or percentage-of-income plans to lower their monthly energy burden.
  • Utility Assistance Programs – Utility assistance programs also provide discounted bills for low-income households through rate discounts, bill credits, or percentage-of-income programs.
  • Hardship Funds – Hardship funds, run by utilities or nonprofits, provide low or moderate-income households with lump-sum grants to prevent service termination or restore utility service.

APPRISE contracts with federal and state government agencies, utility companies, nonprofit organizations, and other organizations to provide research, evaluation, program planning, and technical assistance services for bill payment assistance programs.

Bill Payment Assistance Program Evaluation Activities

  • Process Evaluation includes administrative interviews, observation of program intake and service delivery, and documentation and analysis of program policies and procedures. These activities identify barriers that households may face in enrolling in a program, as well as administrative or procedural processes that affect the program efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Impact Evaluation includes statistical analysis of the program’s impact on bill payment, coverage rates, shortfall, balances, and energy usage. Impact analysis also examines the effect of the program on collections actions and collections costs. Comparison groups consisting of later program participants and eligible non-participants are used to net out impacts from factors that are exogenous to the program.
  • Survey Research includes the design, implementation, and analysis of customer surveys that assess customer knowledge of the bill payment assistance programs, the perceived impact of the program on energy affordability, and satisfaction with program services.
  • Data Tracking includes assessment of data tracking needs; analysis of existing data systems; and development of system recommendations to improve data availability for fiscal oversight, operational management, and program evaluation.
  • Needs Assessment includes analysis of public-use data sets, including the Census, Current Population Survey, and other national databases, to estimate the number of households eligible to participate in a bill payment assistance program based on criteria such as income, geographic location, and energy burden.
  • Technical Assistance includes provision of information on program design options and program procedures that meet the planned program’s goals. APPRISE also provides technical assistance in the implementation of program evaluation recommendations.
  • Policy Analysis includes modeling the impact of policy changes on program participation and program costs.
  • Performance Measurement includes development and measurement of indices that correspond to program goals and objectives. For example, performance measures may include program participation rates for segments of the eligible population, reduction in energy burden, or increases in bill coverage rates.

APPRISE Bill Payment Assistance Program Research and Evaluation

APPRISE conducted a comprehensive evaluation of Allegheny Power’s Universal Service Programs. The evaluation research included interviews with Allegheny and agency program managers and staff, surveys with participating and nonparticipating customers, analysis of program databases, and analysis of the impacts of the payment assistance program on energy affordability, payment compliance, arrearages, and collections costs.
Ameren introduced a pilot of a low-income payment assistance program that provides electric bill payment assistance to low-income customers. Participants receive monthly bill credits toward their electric bill and additional credits toward their arrearages. APPRISE provided an evaluation of this program in 2012 that included interviews with local agencies that conduct intake for the program, a survey of participating customers, analysis of program data, and analysis of program impacts on affordability, payment coverage, and terminations. Ameren made program modifications in response to findings from the initial evaluation. APPRISE conducted a follow-up Process and Impact Evaluation of the program in 2014 that documented the impacts of the program changes. APPRISE is currently conducting a third evaluation of this program that includes interviews with defaulted customers, analysis of program data, and analysis of the impacts of the program on affordability and bill payment. Findings from this research will be used to further refine the program.
Atlantic City Electric and Delmarva Power, electric utility companies serving customers in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, asked APPRISE to present data on low-income energy poverty issues affecting customers in their service territory at a conference for community action agency personnel. APPRISE utilized Census, Current Population Survey, and American Housing Survey data to produce statistics that highlighted these issues.
Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) designed and implemented pilot programs to determine the effect of energy bill discounts and payment counseling on the payment timeliness of limited-income customers. The Graduated Rate Discount (GRAD) Program provided a range of usage-based discounts. Some of the customers also received a home energy audit or payment counseling phone calls. The Customer Assistance Maintenance Program (CAMP) pilot tested changes to BGE’s CAMP including increased bill credits, payment counseling, or both. APPRISE’s process and impact evaluation assessed the effectiveness of these pilots in increasing customers’ on-time bill payment and energy conservation behavior.
APPRISE conducted research to assist the Colorado’s Governor’s Commission on Low-Income Energy Assistance to develop recommendations to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the state’s low-income energy assistance services. The research included analysis of American Community Survey data, the Colorado LIHEAP database, and the Energy Outreach Colorado database; review and assessment of current LIHEAP procedures and implementation; surveys with participating and non-participating low-income households; and interviews with program managers at the state and agency level.

The 2005 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) is a national survey that collected energy-related data for occupied housing units and households. The Office of Community Services (OCS) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funded a special set of questions for low-income households responding to the 2005 RECS. Those questions collected information on residential and home energy-related problems faced by low-income households and measured the extent to which households reported that participation in LIHEAP helped to ameliorate those problems. APPRISE conducted an exploratory analysis of the 2005 RECS data for OCS to develop a better understanding of the performance of the survey questions and to develop new information on the Energy Insecurity of low-income households, including:

  • Levels and Types of Energy Insecurity – Estimation of the rate at which low-income households face various types of energy problems and examination of survey respondent reports on the extent to which energy assistance restores home heating and cooling for households experiencing service interruptions.
  • Factors Related to Energy Insecurity – An analysis of the factors associated with energy problems including poverty level, energy burden, geographic region and other demographic and housing factors.
  • Performance of the Home Energy Insecurity Scale – An assessment of the performance of the Home Energy Insecurity Scale in measuring the impacts of energy costs on low-income households compared to other Energy Insecurity measures used in the past.
The purpose of this study was to assist DDOE’s review of its LIHEAP design and to make recommendations for program modifications. This study assessed DDOE’s LIHEAP procedures, analyzed the population of households eligible for energy assistance, and calculated the impacts of the assistance on participants’ energy burden.  The study furnished DDOE with information needed to modify its program benefits design matrix in a way that meets the statutory guidance furnished to DDOE by the federal LIHEAP program.
The purpose of this study was to assist DDOE’s efforts to mitigate the rising energy costs on those with the highest home energy needs, greatest energy burdens, and least amount of available resources. The study focused on households that pay utility gas and/or electric bills, and are income-eligible and program-eligible for rate discounts. The study characterized the population of households that are eligible for rate discounts, estimated the rate discount program penetration rates, and analyzed how the rate discounts complement the LIHEAP program to reduce energy burdens for participating households.
Duquesne Light implemented Universal Service Programs to improve affordability for low-income customers. The programs include the Customer Assistance Program (CAP), which provides reduced payments and arrearage forgiveness; Smart Comfort, which provides energy efficiency and energy education services; CARES, which provides outreach and referral services; and the Hardship Fund, which provides emergency assistance. APPRISE conducted an evaluation of the performance of these programs and the integration among the different programs. The research included interviews with program and agency staff, a participant survey, and analysis of the impacts of the program on affordability and payment compliance.
The National Low Income Energy Consortium (NLIEC) has begun to produce information that enhances knowledge and casts public attention upon the low-income residential energy issues and hardships facing the particular region in which their annual conference is held. In 2005, NLIEC asked APPRISE to conduct an analysis of energy poverty throughout Arizona, in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, and in specific Phoenix-area neighborhoods. APPRISE used Census, Current Population Survey, and American Housing Survey data to produce this information, which was presented at the annual conference in Phoenix and compiled for a report on energy poverty in Arizona.
APPRISE conducted a survey with households across the U.S. to examine the extent to which increased home energy and gasoline costs have impacted these households and how they have coped with increased prices. The purpose of this study was to develop an understanding of the sacrifices and tradeoffs that low-, moderate-, and middle-income households have made in response to rising fuel costs. Households were asked about beneficial behaviors such as energy conservation and investment in more efficient appliances, and about dangerous sacrifices such as going without food and medicine and keeping the home at unsafe temperatures. The study showed that increased home energy and gasoline costs have impacted households at all income levels. Low-income households, as expected, have sacrificed the most as a result of these price increases. Low- to middle-income households are likely to have gone without food and medicine and to have compromised their energy usage. Low- to moderate-income households are likely to have missed energy bill payments and even have their service terminated. They are also likely to have gotten behind on credit card bills, mortgage or rent, and car payments. All income groups however, have reduced discretionary spending, driving, and heating and cooling usage. All income groups have also made investments in more energy efficient heating, cooling, and appliances to bring down their costs.
FirstEnergy implemented Universal Service Programs to help low-income customers maintain electric service and protect customers’ health and safety. The programs include the CAP Program, which provides reduced payments and arrearage forgiveness; LIURP/WARM, which provides energy efficiency and energy education services; CARES, which provides outreach and referral services; the Hardship Fund, which provides emergency assistance; and Gatekeeper, where field personnel recognize and report customers who may be in distress. APPRISE conducted an evaluation of the performance of these programs, their ability to help low-income customers maintain affordable service, and the integration among the different programs. This evaluation included analysis of program databases, interviews with FirstEnergy managers and staff, interviews with staff at organizations that implement the programs; and analysis of the impact of CAP on bills, customer payments, and affordability.
The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) has designed the Percent of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) pilot to help low-income households maintain energy service throughout the year and reduce the health and safety risks associated with energy service disruption. The PIPP program offers LIHEAP recipients arrearage forgiveness and a fixed payment plan in the place of a one-time LIHEAP grant. It also tests the effectiveness of offering weatherization and energy conservation, as well as counseling and education services to program participants. It is important for HFS to have information on the appropriateness of the program development, the effectiveness of the program implementation, and the program impact on participating clients and the participating utility. APPRISE conducted a process and impact evaluation of this program that assessed whether the program was implemented effectively and whether the program achieved its intended effect on clients.
Louisville Gas and Electric Company and Kentucky Utilities Company offer a Home Energy Assistance (HEA) Program to assist the poorest households in their service territories least able to afford to pay their energy bills. Funded by ratepayers and shareholders, the programs (structured differently by company) provide fixed monthly credits to LIHEAP participants. APPRISE conducted a comprehensive HEA assessment to analyze the program management, availability, and customer participation; assess impacts on payments, arrearages, collections actions, and weatherization participation; and make recommendations for program improvement.
The purpose of the LIHEAP Feasibility Study is to support the Division of Energy Assistance in their development of program outcome measures and to identify options for developing annual estimates of the proposed outcome measures. As part of the study, APPRISE conducted a literature review of existing data sources and performed an in-depth examination of three options for furnishing LIHEAP performance measurement data. These options were (1) working within the context of the existing data sources, (2) replacing the existing data sources with other existing Federal and/or State surveys, and (3) developing a new survey specifically designed to furnish LIHEAP performance measurement data.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is one of seven block grants originally authorized by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981. In 1994, the purpose of the LIHEAP statute was amended to clarify that the program is “to assist low income households, particularly those with the lowest income, that pay a high proportion of household income for home energy, primarily in meeting their immediate home energy needs.”

Furthermore, Congressional Committees indicated in 1994 that LIHEAP grantees needed to reassess their LIHEAP benefit structures to ensure that they are targeting those low income households that have the highest energy costs or needs. The purpose of this evaluation study was to assess to what extent the LIHEAP program is serving the lowest income households that have the highest energy burdens. The study uses data from the 2001 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) to examine the distribution of income and energy burden for low income households and identify those that have the lowest incomes and highest energy burdens (i.e., high burden households). The study uses the 2001 RECS LIHEAP Supplement to measure the effectiveness of the FY 2001 LIHEAP program in serving high burden households. The study quantifies program effectiveness using targeting performance measures. The study also identifies procedures for updating energy burden targeting performance statistics in the future.

APPRISE provides program support to the Federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is a federally funded program to help eligible low-income households meet their home heating and cooling needs. The LIHEAP Home Energy Notebook focuses on the home energy mission of LIHEAP by providing LIHEAP grantees with the latest national and regional data on home energy consumption, expenditures, and burden; low-income home energy trends; and the LIHEAP program performance measurement system.
APPRISE supported NCAT in the LIHEAP Integrity Working Group Project. This working group identified LIHEAP program integrity issues, researched program integrity systems used by LIHEAP grantees, identified areas where additional guidance was needed from federal agencies, and identified best practices and solutions for improving program integrity. APPRISE facilitated working group meetings and supported NCAT in the development of a strategic work plan.
APPRISE previously worked with the federal LIHEAP office to develop a performance measurement plan for targeting heating assistance to households with vulnerable members and a logic model to support that performance measurement plan. APPRISE also developed a separate model to examine the targeting of elderly households. APPRISE then extended the logic models to address all LIHEAP program components including cooling assistance, crisis assistance, home energy-related equipment repair and replacement, weatherization, and Assurance 16 activities. APPRISE also developed a logic model for targeting LIHEAP income-eligible households with at least one young child. The final report recommended an integrated strategy for implementing all of the logic models.
APPRISE provides program support to the Federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP is a federally funded program to help eligible low-income households meet their home heating and cooling needs. The Division of Energy Assistance in the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Community Services, administers LIHEAP at the federal level. APPRISE assists both the federal LIHEAP office and state LIHEAP offices in developing performance measurement data and other statistics needed to effectively administer the program.
APPRISE is assisting the Federal LIHEAP Office in completing their annual Report to Congress. This report, required by Congressional reporting requirements, summarizes data collected on home energy use and households assisted under LIHEAP. The report includes state-level data on the number and characteristics of households that received heating, cooling, and crisis assistance; the sources and uses of LIHEAP funds, average benefit amounts, and income eligibility cutoffs; and the home energy consumption and expenditures of LIHEAP-recipient households.
This study examined and compared alternative procedures for estimating the recipiency targeting performance measurement indicators used by the LIHEAP program to measure program performance. The “recipiency targeting index” for a specific group of households is computed by comparing the percent of LIHEAP households that are members of the target group to the percent of all income-eligible households that are members of the target group. The study showed that CPS data are the best data source for making estimates of the number of LIHEAP income-eligible households and the administrative data are the best data source for making estimates of LIHEAP-recipient households.
APPRISE is furnishing technical support to the Division of Energy Assistance in the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Community Services. As part of this support, APPRISE is assisting in the development of performance measurement procedures that address deficiencies outlined in the 2003 PART Assessment for the LIHEAP Program. APPRISE annually develops State-level targeting performance data that indicate the extent to which States targeted energy assistance to low-income and vulnerable households.
APPRISE is working with The Division of Energy Assistance in the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Community Services, to develop a web-based data tool. The web-based data tool will standardize the experience of LIHEAP grantees in entering performance data; improve the data quality by implementing a set of item-to-item, form-to-form, and year-to-year data checks; enhance the user help interface by providing online screens and real time help desk support; and allow LIHEAP grantees to utilize standard and custom reporting tools. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a system that facilitates the collection of high-quality performance measurement data for the LIHEAP program.
The purpose of this study was to furnish comprehensive information on ratepayer-funded low-income energy programs. The report includes information on and analysis of the energy needs of low-income households, the legal and regulatory framework supporting ratepayer-funded programs, program design options, and the findings from evaluations of program effectiveness.
APPRISE conducted surveys of LIHEAP recipients in 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2011. APPRISE recently conducted a survey of 2011 recipients to update information about LIHEAP-recipient households that was collected in the previous surveys. These surveys documented changes in the affordability of energy bills, the need for LIHEAP, and the choices that low-income households make when faced with unaffordable energy bills. The 2011 Survey interviewed recipients in 13 states. Stratified samples of fiscal year 2011 LIHEAP recipients were chosen from each of the 13 state LIHEAP databases. The study characterized the LIHEAP population for 2011 and documented the challenges that these households face in addition to their energy bills, including unemployment, lack of health insurance, and medical issues.
APPRISE assessed the fiscal integrity and operational efficiency of the NJ LIHEAP and USF Programs. This research included an assessment of the performance of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), Division of Housing and Community Resources (DHCR), Office of Home Energy Assistance (OHEA) and an assessment of the operations of the LIHEAP and USF programs. We reviewed program documents, and conducted interviews with HHS LIHEAP compliance staff, DCA management, USF managers at the NJ Board of Public Utilities, and managers at Community Based Organizations that administer the programs. We also reviewed program databases and statistics, conducted on-site interviews and observations with a sample of local agencies, and conducted a survey with LIHEAP recipients.
The New Jersey Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral for Energy Services (NJ SHARES) is a nonprofit corporation organized to provide assistance to individuals and families living in New Jersey who are in need of temporary help paying their energy bills. APPRISE conducts an annual impact evaluation of the New Jersey SHARES program. The evaluation includes analysis of administrative and utility data to assess the program’s impact on maintenance of electric and gas service and energy bill payment. In 2012, APPRISE also conducted a survey of 2011 grant recipients to assess whether the crises had been resolved, what additional assistance was needed, and the interest and potential for energy efficiency program participation. APPRISE also serves as an advisor to the NJ SHARES Board of Directors.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) created the Universal Service Fund (USF) to help low- and fixed-income residents pay for electric and natural gas service. The BPU staff is responsible for developing policies and procedures for implementation of the USF program. As part of those responsibilities, the staff developed a Data Tracking System that can furnish the information that the BPU needs to manage and evaluate the effectiveness of the USF program. APPRISE developed a draft set of specifications and an implementation plan for the USF Data Tracking System. The specifications identify the information needed for three purposes: operations, regulatory oversight, and evaluation. The implementation plan identifies the process by which detailed specifications will be developed and the schedule for implementing different components of the Data Tracking System.
The New Jersey Universal Service Fund (USF) program provides fixed credits to eligible low-income families to limit electric and gas bills to six percent of household income. APPRISE conducted a process and impact evaluation of this program. This evaluation provided information on the benefits and costs of the USF program and alternatives for program design and operations. Program evaluation research consisted of administrative interviews, client surveys, program and utility data analysis, and financial data analysis.
APPRISE has provided estimates of energy costs by fuel type and household size for low-income households in New York for the New York Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) office. These estimates were used in New York’s LIHEAP Statewide Annual Energy Cost Standard by Primary Fuel Type that is used in the NY HEAP benefits tables.
Ohio’s Percentage of Income Payment Program (PIPP) was revised as the PIPP Plus in November 2010. The program helps low-income households maintain utility service by providing a reduced bill based on a percentage of the household’s annual income. APPRISE conducted an evaluation of this program to assess the effectiveness of the changes to PIPP that aimed to provide incentives for regular, on-time payments and consequences for failure to adhere to program rules. The research included administrative interviews, participant surveys, and analysis of program and utility data.
PECO implemented Universal Service Programs to help low-income customers maintain energy services and protect customers’ health and safety. The programs include CAP which provides reduced payments and arrearage forgiveness, LIURP which provides energy efficiency and energy education services, CARES which provides outreach and referral services, and MEAP which provides emergency financial assistance for overdue energy bills. APPRISE conducted the 2006 and the 2012 evaluations of PECO’s Universal Services Programs. The research included review of program procedures and implementation; customer needs assessment; interviews with program managers and implementation partners; customer surveys; and an analysis of the impact of the program on energy affordability, bill payment, and collections. The work also included preparation of the Universal Services Programs Evaluation Report, submitted to the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission.
APPRISE is conducting an evaluation of Peoples Natural Gas Universal Service Programs.  Peoples’ Universal Service Programs provide reduced natural gas bills, arrearage forgiveness, emergency bill payment assistance, energy efficiency services, and case management services to low-income households.  The evaluation will assess the efficiency and effectiveness of these programs through background research, needs assessment research, program administrator interviews, customer surveys, program database analysis, and analysis of the impacts of the program on affordability, bill payment, and collections actions and costs.
PG Energy implemented their Customer Assistance Program (CAP), called the PG Energy Partners Program (PGEPP), to assist eligible low-income residential customers to pay their gas bills and reduce arrearages. Participating households pay a monthly bill that equals a percentage of their income, and receive monthly arrearage forgiveness when bills are paid on time and in full. APPRISE evaluated this program to determine how to increase efficiency of administration and to measure the impacts of the program on affordability, bill payment, collections activity, and gas usage.
APPRISE conducted a Process and Impact Evaluation of PGW’s Customer Responsibility Program in 2006 and 2012. This program provides low-income PGW customers with a reduced bill to increase energy affordability. The evaluations assessed the characteristics of program participants, payment compliance by program participants, and arrearage forgiveness received by program participants. The research estimated the impact of the program on affordability, payments, and collections actions and costs. Evaluation activities included interviews with program managers and staff, a survey of participating and non-participating customers, and analysis of customer billing and payment data.
APPRISE conducted a Process and Impact Evaluation of PPL Electric Utilities’ (PPL) Universal Services Programs in 2008 and in 2014. The programs provide energy efficiency services and bill payment assistance to PPL’s low-income customers. The 2014 evaluation included a needs assessment, interviews with program managers and staff, interviews with service delivery agencies, surveys with participating and non-participating customers, and analysis of the impact of the programs on energy affordability and bill payment practices.
Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has various programs to provide assistance to low-income and special needs households. These programs include rate discounts, home weatherization services, and bill assistance. SMUD contracted with APPRISE to conduct research on SMUD’s low-income assistance programs. The study included an assessment of the characteristics and needs of SMUD’s low-income population, a benchmark study of low-income assistance programs offered by other utilities and organizations, a review of SMUD’s current low-income programs, and recommendations for program assessment metrics and potential program modifications or additions.
T.W. Phillips established a customer assistance program called the Energy Help Fund (EHF) as part of its Universal Services Programs. The EHF provides low-income customers with rate discounts and arrearage forgiveness. APPRISE conducted a Process and Impact Evaluation of the program. The evaluation included administrative interviews, customer surveys, and analysis of payment and program data.
UGI has a Customer Assistance Program (CAP) to improve energy affordability for low-income customers. The program provides a reduced natural gas bill based on the customer’s poverty level and energy usage. APPRISE conducted a Process and Impact Evaluation of this program. The research included an assessment of the program design; review of the program costs and implementation; participant and non-participant feedback; and analysis of the impacts of the program on bill payment, arrearages, and collections costs.
Verizon’s Communications Lifeline Program provides discounted telephone service to low-income customers in New Jersey. NJ SHARES has been retained by Verizon to conduct outreach for the program by providing information about the program at workshops around the state. NJ SHARES is also assisting Verizon customers with near matches of Verizon account information data and eligible program participation data to enroll in the program. NJ SHARES is attempting to enroll these customers by sending out letters, fielding response phone calls, and calling customers who do not respond to the letters. APPRISE conducted an evaluation to assess the efforts that NJ SHARES has made toward increasing enrollment in this program. The evaluation included background research, database analysis, call center observations, customer interviews, successful enrollment analysis, program penetration research, and a detailed procedures review.
APPRISE conducted a statewide survey of LIHEAP-recipient households in Washington to document the challenges that these households face in meeting their energy needs. The Washington State Energy Assistance Survey documented the need for LIHEAP and the choices that low-income households make when faced with unaffordable energy bills. Research showed that LIHEAP plays a significant role in alleviating some of the problems caused by high energy bills. Seventy-one percent of LIHEAP-recipient households said that they would have had to keep their home at an unsafe or unhealthy temperature if LIHEAP had not been available, and 95 percent said that LIHEAP had been very important in helping them to meet their needs. However, a large share of LIHEAP-recipient households in Washington still face difficult choices due to unaffordable energy bills. The survey documented the percentage of these households that go without food or medical care, keep their home at unsafe or unhealthy temperatures, and use dangerous heating methods.