LIHEAP Program Integrity Working Group Report Released
The LIHEAP Program Integrity Working Group, coordinated by NCAT's LIHEAP Clearinghouse, has released a report with its recommendations to the HHS Office of Community Services (OCS).
The working group report is an outgrowth of OCS's response to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report of June 2010, titled: "Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: Greater Fraud Prevention Controls are Needed."
The group met for a year via conference call and two in-person meetings and reviewed LIHEAP policies, procedures and systems in order to determine current practices in fraud prevention, detection and correction, as well as to recommend best practices in these areas. The group looked at current practices in LIHEAP eligibility determination, fiscal controls, oversight and monitoring, and investigation and prosecution.
In addition to recommending best practices in these areas, the group's report includes recommendations to HHS/OCS pertaining to federal policy and initiatives and training and technical assistance, all geared to helping LIHEAP grantees strengthen program management and internal controls, enhance program integrity, and thereby improve the quality and delivery of LIHEAP services.
The report's key recommendations are:
HHS should mandate collection of Social Security numbers from all household members, subject to grantee exceptions and waivers. The group recognized that LIHEAP is essentially an emergency program, and that the mandate should be subject to grantee exceptions and waivers, including, but not limited to, discretion to provide a household LIHEAP benefits even if one or more household members does not have an SSN (or does not disclose it), and identifying specific circumstances under which applicants and household members are not required to provide a Social Security number. A mandate would also make LIHEAP more consistent with practices of other means-tested programs such as SNAP and TANF.
HHS should collaborate and coordinate with other federal agencies in order to help streamline third-party verification processes for LIHEAP grantees. The group encouraged HHS to investigate the inclusion of LIHEAP into relevant law or laws that would then allow grantees timely access to online systems or other relevant systems for verification of applicant Social Security numbers, income and other available information. HHS should also collaborate with federal programs such as SNAP and TANF to assure that identity and income information available through other program databases is accessible and available to LIHEAP. A high percentage of LIHEAP applicant households already receives benefits thorough these programs, thus, their identity and incomes may already have been collected and verified through these programs.
HHS should perform an in-depth cost-benefit analysis of third-party verification measures. This recommendation is consistent with the GAO's recommendation that HHS "evaluate the feasibility (including consideration of any costs and operational and system modifications) of validating applicant and household member identity information with SSA."
Regarding training and technical assistance, the group concluded that LIHEAP training and technical assistance (T and TA) funding is inadequate and recommended that it be significantly expanded. Additional T and TA resources should be directed at enhancing the information technology (IT) systems of LIHEAP grantees because, as the group also concluded, sound program integrity correlates positively to a grantee's IT capabilities, grantees' abilities to collect, share, and analyze program data vary widely, and their IT needs are diverse.
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The report is available on the LIHEAP Clearinghouse website. For more information, contact Kay Joslin or Sherry Vogel of the NCAT coordination team.
Summer is Heating Up; Help Available in Some States
Temperatures are rising and many states are opening their cooling assistance programs this month. More than half the states operate a separate cooling program or one that is part of their crisis program. Several states that operate year-round programs allow clients to choose whether their benefits will help pay heating or cooling bills or will be split between the two.
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Some states, such as Ohio and Indiana, had funds left from their heating programs due to mild winter temperatures. Indiana's leftover money was rolled over into a summer program that began June 4 and will provide a $65 electric credit to all households that received a heating benefit. Clients who meet medical requirements may be eligible for an air conditioner. If agencies have funds left after July 2, they may begin to process walk-in applications.
Ohio is anticipating more days of extreme heat this summer and will begin its summer crisis program one month early, on June 1 instead of July 1. Ohio's cooling program also expanded by increasing benefits by $75, up to $250 and offering assistance to households with a disconnect notice. Previously, benefits were only available to a senior household or one where cooling was a medical necessity.
One agency in Ohio, two days after opening the cooling program, reported that hundreds of residents have requested assistance and is expecting need to double compared to last year.
An agency in Tennessee relates that it is unusual for them to have funds remaining after the winter heating program, but mild winter temperatures have left the agency with surplus assistance funds that will allow the program to help nearly 2,000 more families.
Many states have cooling programs only for households with a vulnerable member — elderly, disabled or young children. Other states require a household to have documentation that cooling is necessary due to a medical condition.
Benefits may include electric bill payment assistance, provision of fans or air conditioners, or crisis payments for disconnections or reconnections.
The Administration of Pennsylvania’s LIHEAP Grant and Crisis Program, Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, June 2012. Stemming from a state Senate resolution which asked for an efficiency study on LIHEAP, the report details the extent to which the LIHEAP grantee, the Department of Public Welfare, has instituted changes in processing applications and benefits through automated systems in order to enhance program integrity and administrative efficiencies, details processing delays due to these systems and makes recommendations for overall program improvements.
Weatherization Assistance Program Funding Survey Program Year 2011, National Association for State Community Services Programs, May 2012. The annual funding survey of the 50 states and the District of Columbia shows an estimated $1,088,197,305 was available to WAP in 2011. Provides historical funding levels by state from DOE, LIHEAP and other sources, primarily utility ratepayers, as well as production statistics.
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The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, organizations or program activities imply endorsement by the U.S. Government or compliance with HHS regulations.