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Provincial Energy Fund Affordable and Adequate Energy is a Necessity of Life
Agenda • The Ask: A coordinated Energy Assistance Safety Net • Provincial Commitment to Municipal Partnership • Actual Funding Allocation • Criteria and Guidelines: Emergency Energy Fund • Accountability and Performance Measurement • Energy Emergency Fund: When Theory Becomes Practice • Catchment Variance, Loan vs. Grant and Equity • Criteria, Assistance & Access • Follow the Money • Why haven’t More Communities Exhausted Funding? • The Homeless Prevention Irony • How Effective is the EEF at Addressing Energy Burden? • Security Deposits and Reconnection Fees • 3 Program Coordination Keys • Fourth Element in Coordination Strategy • The City of Hamilton: An Emerging Best Practices Model
The Ask: A Coordinated Province-wide Energy Assistance Safety Net • In February 2004 STW met and presented a brief to the Minister of Community and Social Services calling for the creation of a province-wide energy assistance fund with equitable province-wide criteria (for copy of brief see STW’s website at www.sharethewarmth.org) • The Government of Ontario was asked to dedicate $2,000,000 for annual energy assistance services with municipalities and utilities required to match equally as a condition of access. Total funds available for assistance with all parties at the table ($6,000,000) usingequitable Province-wide criteria • Effective LIEN lobbying led to a government commitment of $2,000,000.
Provincial Commitment to Municipal Partnership • Province transferred funds to 47 DSSABs, providing less stringent guidelines to municipalities regarding its use than the Provincial Rent Bank unveiled at the same press conference (Rent Bank requires independent audit, etc) • Funding allocation based on total population, with a 30 per cent weighting factor for higher energy costs in northern communities. • Consequently, a significant number of community- based programs emerged over the last year with varying criteria and catchments
Criteria and Guidelines:Emergency Energy Fund • Eligibility based on assessment of need and long-term ability to manage energy costs. • Catchments includes low-income Ontarians, including social assistance recipients and people with fixed incomes. • Fund not limited to electricity arrears, may also cover natural gas, oil and other forms of energy. • Assistance can include arrears, security deposits (avg. security deposit $400.00) and reconnection fees (range from $20 to $70, or 120 plus if reconnection required on a weekend). • Max. assistance per household is equivalent to two months energy arrears, security deposits and reconnection fees, as required, except under exceptional circumstances. • Emergency assistance to be paid directly to the energy provider.
Accountability and Performance Measurement • Unlike its bigger sister fund, the provincial rent bank which requires an independent audit with stringent guidelines and reporting, the Energy Emergency Fund provides municipalities with flexibility with respect to reporting and use of funds. Reporting requirements include: • Number of households assisted • Type of household assisted (i.e. O.W., O.D.S.P., other low income) • Total expenditures categorized by program and admin • Average dollar amount per household • The balance in the fund at year end • (Dec. 31, 2004 – now extended until Dec. 31, 2005)
Energy Emergency Fund: When Theory Becomes Practice In communities across the province, the energy assistance landscape changed radically over the last 10 months. • 32% of communities are currently served by one program • 34% are served by two programs • 34% are served by three or more programs More programs without effective coordination has increased instances of abuse (agency shopping, double dipping, etc.) while increasing agency workloads and program delivery costs to prevent same.
Catchment Variance, Loan vs. Grant and Equity • 77% of programs. assist non-socially-assisted low-income clients • 6.5 % programs assist OW and ODSP only • 6.5% programs exclude OW and ODSP Loan vs. Grant • 55% provide one-time grants • 9% provide loans only • 13% provide both loans and grants • 23% did not provide this information Depending on where you live in the province, your ability to access energy emergency funding without incurring greater debt is uncertain.
Criteria, Assistance & Access Though provincial guidelines were provided, universal criteria, equitable assistance or accessibility were not a requirement. • 17% of programs required clients to be in threat of service term. • 17% required income assessment to determine need • 23% employed an application process • 57% were willing to share criteria over the phone (for inquiring applicant or agency) • 26% refused to give out criteria of any kind (for inquiring applicant or agency) • 17% were unclear about the necessary criteria Awareness of the programs’ availability and accessibility was a challenge for low-income households in communities across the province.
Follow the Money • 4% of communities exhausted funds by September • 19% of communities exhausted funds by December • 21% of communities exhausted funds by February • 2% of communities have yet to use any of the funds If the need is so great, why haven’t more communities exhausted funding?
Why Haven’t More Communities Exhausted Funding? In many cases social services have elected to deliver EEF dollars to clients beyond their traditional catchments. • Low-income clients face barriers to access in the form of awareness; stigma and eligibility confusion are factors • In some cases Social Services are requiring the use of alternate sources of funding first (corporate, charitable, etc.) before accessing EEF Should charitable or corporate dollars be used before government dollars? – Is that not another form of taxation, distorting government’s perception of the size of the need?
The Homeless Prevention Irony • Some large municipalities absorbed EEF into their Homeless Prevention Program which can often only be accessed once in a life time. • If a household has accessed the program in previous years, it is often ineligible for EEF
How Effective is the EEF at Addressing Energy Burden? • An effectively delivered EEF is critical to low-income household’s ability to meet their rising energy burden because unlike charitable or corporate funding, EEF funding can be made an annual certainty. • Reconnection fees and security deposits (combined can account for up to $500.00) undermine the EEF’s ability to provide actual energy assistance - flowing fewer dollars to fewer households
Security Deposits and Reconnection Fees – According to a Senior staff manager at a Big Six utility that recently met with LIEN – “Gov’t assistance for security deposits is like giving with one hand and taking with the other” STW recommends a provincial clearing house for low-income security deposits through the use of modified letters of credit (businesses already use these instruments) to satisfy regulatory imperatives and to prevent abuse Currently, security deposits paid by EEF or other funders can be claimed by households by closing their accounts.
3 Program Coordination Keys to Effective Low-Income Energy/ Housing Stability • Coordinate and Adequately Fund Energy Assistance Programs throughout Ont. (Equity, Access, Accountability) • Coordinate Energy Assistance Clients with Highest Energy Burdens into Adequately Funded Energy Conservation Programs to ensure long term sustainability • Coordinate Energy Assistance and Energy Conservation Programs with Rent Bank Programs to ensure housing stability
Fourth Element in Coordination Strategy • Effective regulatory and social policy measures which ensure an adequate and affordable energy supply for all Ontarians and low-income households specifically
The City of Hamilton: An Emerging Best Practices Model • Coordinated Energy Assistance Programs • Coordinating Energy Conservation with Energy Assistance Programs • Coordinate above programs with Rent Bank programs
Coordinated Programs: A Best-Practices Model City of Hamilton Low-Income Individuals / Households (exhausted OW or ODSP) OW/ODSP* Family with Children Under 19 Years OW/ODSP* Singles and Couples w/out Children Share the Warmth City of Hamilton, Public Health & Community Services Dept, OW/Special Income (through client’s caseworker) • Max. - $600 in assistance / yr • If client is OW/ODSP recipient application process ensures they have exhausted available support • Direct pay to utility company; stop on shut-off notices sent immediately • Funding source: (1) National Child Benefit Reinvestment Strategy; (2) Water/Wastewater Budget (3) Provincial Energy Fund • Families with Children • Up to $1,500 in assistance / year • Direct pay to utility company • Funding source: National Child Benefit Reinvestment Funds • Family assessed for referral to home management and budget counseling. Trusteeship program for benefits considered. • Once exhausted City of Hamilton assistance referred to Share the Warmth Singles & Couples without Children Up to $799 in assistance / year Direct pay to utility company Funding source: Water/Wastewater Budget (Utilities Arrears Program) Individual / couple assessed for referral to home management and budget counseling. Trusteeship program for benefits considered. Once exhausted City of Hamilton assistance referred to Share the Warmth *OW = Ontario Works Program *ODSP = Ontario Disability Support Program.
Low-Income Energy Assistance/Conservation • In partnership with Hamilton Utility Corp., STW is developing a made-in-Hamilton Conservation strategy to leverage the highest energy burdened low-income households into a longer-term energy conservation solution • Key part of the strategy is to build into STW’s online application an energy conservation module to allow on-line application and data management of clients in need of the conservation services
The Rent Bank Element Traditionally, household energy costs were recognized as shelter costs. • Rent bank programs assisted with energy costs for households seeking rent bank assistance but were often not coordinated with energy assistance/conservation programs • By building a rent bank module into STW’s online application, clients with housing stability issues (often the same clients seeking help at different times of year) can be served holistically with long term, added value for clients, reduced service delivery costs for agencies, more effective use of community resources/funds, and greater leveraging opportunities
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