OPALCO led a county-wide work group to identify the needs of our lowest-income residents and to collaborate on effective solutions. The findings show there is a broad spectrum of affordability needs to address and that an effective response will require county-wide agency participation. OPALCO will do its part, proposing new measures in the Co-op’s 2016 budget to address the affordability of electricity for qualified households.
The work group, which began meeting in July of 2015, included stakeholders from island community foundations, family services, the County Housing Bank and Opportunity Council. Following three stakeholder meetings and data research provided by CLEAResult consulting group, OPALCO has released a comprehensive report of the findings, available online at http://www.opalco.com/resource-library/ (see Find Documents, select folder Board Materials, select folder 2015, select folder October, click document icon to view the PDF).
Three Key Questions
The work group sought to address three key questions: who is in need, how big is the need, and how can we collaborate to best help struggling islanders. Using available market and Census data, the work group determined that roughly 19% of full-time residents fall below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, representing about 1,500 island households and 3,000 people. All of the available resources for community assistance were inventoried and estimates calculated for how much additional support is needed.
For these 1,500 households, the greatest portion of their monthly budget is housing (23%), followed by transportation (16%), medical (12%) and up to 10% for electric expense (numbers vary slightly for seniors, families with children, and single adults). Effective solutions will require county-wide collaboration across agencies to improve affordability in the islands.
OPALCO underwrote the cost of the Needs Assessment and will take the lead with a solution to reduce electricity expense for those households. OPALCO’s Project PAL collects voluntary donations from co-op members to fund some 250 assistance awards of about $150 each during the heating season. To extend the assistance, OPALCO staff will recommend that the Board consider a couple of options for the 2016 budget in addition to continuing with Project PAL: 1) Develop an Energy Assistance Program which would award grants based on income and household size using existing qualification tests (SSI, SSDI, LIHEAP programs); or 2) augment member donations to PAL with a budgeted amount to increase the effectiveness of that program.
General Manager Foster Hildreth expects to make a recommendation for an OPALCO solution as part of the budget discussion at the November meeting. Look for the November Board materials to be posted online Monday, November 16, 2016 in the Find Documents/Board Materials/2015/November section of the OPALCO website.