LIHEAP program improvements lead to increase in number of low-income households assisted
Resilience and Community Services and Office of Performance Improvement & Innovation create improvements to increase program efficiency and accessibility +
Citing process improvements that created efficiencies and increased accessibility, the Louisville Metro Office of Resilience and Community Services announced this week that the number of low-income households helped by the city’s LIHEAP Program (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) grew by 1,249 in the most recent program year, which ended April 30.
In all, 15,088 households, received more than $4.5 million in benefits to help cover essential utilities.
Louisville residents living at or below 130% of the federal poverty line rely on LIHEAP to help cover costly home energy bills and to help with the prevention of loss and the restoration of home energy services. The vast majority of recipient households have at least one "vulnerable" member, containing children, elderly or people with disabilities.
Resilience and Community Services, the agency that administers LIHEAP, teamed up with the Louisville Metro Office of Performance Improvement & Innovation (OPI2) in 2016 to work through the Lean process improvement methodology, identifying areas of waste or inefficiency, generating solutions and prioritizing according to impact and feasibility. These improvements led to an increased in number of households served compared to the operations in previous years.
The first and most significant area of improvement was the launch of an automated telephone and online system for residents in 2016 to make required in-person appointments for LIHEAP assistance requestors. In previous years, LIHEAP assistance requestors were required to make two trips to RCS staff to apply for LIHEAP assistance—- first to sign up for appointments and later to complete their applications.
Also in 2016, LIHEAP locations were expanded from three to six sites.
Other incremental improvements include:
- All LIHEAP staff now have laptops
- All workstations now have scanners
- A central electronic storage space for documents
- A simple staff training manual
- A customer experience survey
These multiple process improvements have greatly increased efficiency in the LIHEAP process, resulting in:
- 7,448 more LIHEAP applications being processed in 2018-2019 compared with the 2015-2016 LIHEAP season
- 75 percent of 2017-2018 LIHEAP survey respondents reported a “much better” experience compared to previous years
- The application process – previously a multi-day endeavor – now takes an average of 22 to 25 minutes from the moment a resident arrives at a local LIHEAP site.
“We have made significant process improvements over the last three years with the help of Louisville Metro’s OPI2”, said Brandon O’Neal, program supervisor for LIHEAP, part of Louisville Metro Office of Resilience and Community Services. “These efforts have resulted in greater program capacity and improved service for low-income households seeking assistance.”
Another notable enhancement made in early 2018 with the support of community advocates was the expansion of eligibility of the LIHEAP Crisis Component. Residents who received a utility bill with a past due amount are now able to apply for assistance during this phase, in addition to continuing to serve those who receive a disconnect notice. Also, due to the proven success of the LIHEAP automated appointment system, the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program) adopted a similar system for residents seeking free tax preparation assistance.
“From Day One of my administration, we’ve focused on finding ways to provide the best possible services in the most efficient manner possible,” Mayor Greg Fischer said. “The work our Office of Resilience and Community Services team has done to make it easier for residents to get the assistance they need is a prime example. I want to also send a shout out to the Office of Performance Improvement & Innovation for providing their expertise and hard work to make this program easier for residents in need and more efficient for their Louisville Metro colleagues. OPI2 is nationally recognized for its work to make services better and government more efficient; now more than ever, that’s vital work.
LIHEAP is a seasonal program that is expected to reopen in the fall, pending federal funding. Stay tuned to https://louisvilleky.gov/government/resilience-and-community-services/low-income-home-energy-assistance-program-liheap for future updates.
Residents who are currently in need of utility assistance are encouraged to call their local Community Ministry or Neighborhood Place. Call Metro United Way’s 2-1-1 help referral service or Metro311 to locate the nearest site.
LIHEAP (the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) is made possible by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and is a pass through block grant from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which contracts with Community Action Agencies across the state. Louisville Metro Office of Resilience and Community Services serves as the administering agency of Louisville Metro Community Action Agency. Locally, each LIHEAP season typically runs from October through March (with this season extended through April) and funding is awarded in two phases – the initial “Subsidy” component and the “Crisis” component that spans the coldest winter months when the need for home energy assistance is most critical. LIHEAP benefits are paid directly to the utility provider.