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
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.
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.