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LIHEAP Research Experiences of Selected Federal Social Welfare Programs and State LIHEAP Programs in Targeting Vulnerable Elderly and Young Child Households

Published: December 1, 2008
Audience:
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Category:
Publications/Reports, Research, Case Studies


Intake and Benefits
Program intake and benefit determination procedures can have a significant impact on the participation of young child households in the LIHEAP program.  The LIHEAP program can use a number of different procedures to reduce program participation barriers, reduce program participation costs, or increase program participation benefits, including:

  • Screening – Some programs screen the recipients of other programs to assess eligibility for LIHEAP and automatically enroll clients in the program;
  • Priority – Some programs give priority to young child households by establishing a special application period;
  • Reducing Barriers/Costs – Some programs establish special application procedures for young child households, while others conduct outreach at special sites or offer special assistance to young child households; and
  • Increasing Benefits – Some programs offer additional benefits to young child households in recognition of their special needs.  This has the added benefit of increase the motivation for working households to participate.

Table 6-15 shows that no States reported that they screen recipients of other programs that serve young child households and Table 6-16 shows that only two States report special application periods for young child households. 

Table 6-15 – Screen Programs Serving Young Child Households


Targeting Group

Yes

No

High Young Child Targeting

0

8

Moderate Young Child Targeting

0

4

Low Young Child Targeting

0

5

Table 6-16 – Special Application Period for Young Child Households


Targeting Group

Yes

No

High Young Child Targeting

1

7

Moderate Young Child Targeting

1

3

Low Young Child Targeting

0

5

Table 6-17 furnishes statistics on the use of intake procedures that attempt to reduce barriers for young child households.  Some States (7 of 17) offer alternative intake sites or procedures (e.g., mail application) for young child households.  However, there is no difference between the high and low targeting States in the availability of these procedures.

Table 6-17 – Special Application Locations for Young Child Households


Targeting Group

Yes

No

High Young Child Targeting

3

5

Moderate Young Child Targeting

1

3

Low Young Child Targeting

3

2

Table 6-18 furnishes statistics on the availability of higher benefits to young child households.  A few States (4 of 17) offer higher benefits to young child households.  In this case, the higher targeting States are more likely to offer these higher benefits.  However, given the large number of States that have a high young child targeting index but do not offer higher benefits for young children, it is not appropriate to infer that there is a causative relationship demonstrated by this table.

Table 6-18 – Higher Benefit for Young Child Households


Targeting Group

Yes

No

High Young Child Targeting

3

5

Moderate Young Child Targeting

1

3

Low Young Child Targeting

0

5

Summary of Findings on State LIHEAP Outreach and Intake Practices

In the targeting literature from other Federal social programs, one finding was clear and consistent.  The starting point for targeting any program is to create a broad-based awareness of the program through general population outreach.  Once that basic awareness has been established, the program can then apply specialized outreach that enhances the awareness and understanding of targeted groups, as well as the intake and benefit determination procedures that lower the barriers to participation experienced by targeted groups. 
The interviews with State LIHEAP programs asked whether the State had an explicit outreach plan and an explicit outreach budget.  All respondents reported having a basic outreach plan as outlined in the State Plan submitted to ACS.  In all cases, respondents reported that their outreach plan was modeled on what was required by the Federal Statute.  Some respondents reported that they had delegated responsibility for outreach to the local agencies because they find it more appropriate to have the agency tailor the outreach to the population they serve.  No respondent reported having an explicit outreach budget that was reviewed annually to assess its effectiveness in reaching vulnerable households or other outreach targets.  The research finds that States could do more to increase overall program awareness and could implement more direct outreach to targeted groups.
However, many respondents noted that their LIHEAP program is already oversubscribed.  They recognize the need for improving outreach, but were hesitant to aggressively reach out to the low income population for fear that their program would run out of funds early in the heating season.  Without a higher level of program awareness, it is difficult for LIHEAP programs to increase the level of applications by targeted groups (i.e., elderly households and young child households), even if more directed outreach to targeted groups is conducted. 
The research finds that some States have implemented procedures that are designed to reduce program application barriers for elderly and young child households.  However, in the research, there was no consistent relationship between States that implemented procedures and States with high recipiency targeting indexes.  This does not necessarily mean that the recommended barrier reduction measures (e.g., conducting outreach at agencies that serve elderly households or young child households) are not effective.  Rather, it is possible that such measures have an incremental impact on targeting, and that other factors are responsible for the dominant targeting outcome.

Linkages between Program Design and Targeting Outcomes

As part of the interviews, State LIHEAP program managers described LIHEAP program design elements in their State that have an impact on program targeting.  Some of these program design elements appear to have a significant impact on program targeting results.  Examples include:

  • Elderly Household Application Period with Outreach – A number of States have a special application period for elderly households.  However, in one State, extensive outreach is conducted during this early application period.  During a recent program year, about 55 percent of LIHEAP benefits were distributed before the program was opened to other types of households.  That State has a high elderly targeting index and a low young child targeting index.
  • Focus on Other Programs’ Eligibility – During the LIHEAP season, one State program manager reports that the State has a policy of reviewing all applications for other programs to determine whether the household is also eligible for LIHEAP.  That State has a high young child targeting index and a low elderly targeting index.
  • State Office Application Processing – One State program manager reports that all LIHEAP applications are completed at the local level, but processed by the State LIHEAP office.  Many different types of agencies, including local community-based organizations, Head Start programs, and AOA offices are given the opportunity to submit applications for their clients.  That State has a high elderly targeting index and a high young child targeting index.
  • Intensive Outreach – One State not interviewed for this research had a significant increase in its elderly targeting index in the last three years.  That State recently implemented a ratepayer funded low income energy assistance program that was directly linked to the LIHEAP program.  When it was determined that participation of elderly households in the program was low, there were intensive outreach efforts to low income elderly households.  That outreach appears to be associated with the increase in the targeting of elderly household by the State LIHEAP program.
  • State Income Tax System – One State reported that their LIHEAP benefits are distributed through the State personal income tax system.  That State has a moderate elderly targeting index and a high young child targeting index.  Significant outreach for the Earned Income Tax Credit has raised participation of working households with children to very high rates across the country.  Such households also would benefit by receiving LIHEAP by completing their tax returns.  Low income elderly households, on the other hand, might not even need to file taxes.  So, they would not be as likely to receive LIHEAP benefits.

These examples make it clear that changing LIHEAP program recipiency targeting rates will require not only general improvement in the outreach and intake procedures, but also specific changes in the way that certain programs are designed if the program design is working contrary to targeting objectives established by the State.  Examples include:

  • During LIHEAP season, one State reviews all program applications to assess whether the household is eligible for LIHEAP.  Since relatively few elderly households have active program applications, the State has a low elderly targeting index.  To increase the elderly targeting index, the State might need to implement a countervailing design feature that identifies elderly households who are in need of energy assistance.  
  • One State distributes 55 percent of its LIHEAP funds during the special elderly household enrollment period.  In order to increase its young child targeting rate, the State might need to include young child households in that special enrollment period.

By applying effective outreach strategies, working to lower program intake barriers, and being alert to program design elements that target one type of household, States can improve their elderly and young child recipiency targeting indexes.

Recommendations

In FY 2006, the national targeting indexes for households with elderly members and households with young children were lower than they were when the baseline was established in 2003.  ACF is interested in making information available to State LIHEAP program administrators on how they can increase their targeting rates for these households.  Based on findings from this research, this study recommends that State LIHEAP Directors who wish to increase targeting to either or both of these groups adopt the following strategy.

  • First, they need to measure their current rate of targeting and examine in what ways their existing program design, outreach, and intake strategies are linked to the targeting outcomes. 
  • Second, they need to increase the general awareness of their programs through a general outreach campaign. 
  • Third, they need to adopt specific outreach and intake strategies that transform the general awareness of LIHEAP into actions by targeted households that result in receipt of program benefits.
  • Finally, they need to measure the outcomes of their actions in terms of program targeting for vulnerable households.

Only systematic efforts on the parts of State LIHEAP program managers are likely to have a significant impact on vulnerable household targeting levels for the LIHEAP program.

Baseline Assessment

The starting point for any grantee that is interested in increasing targeting households with elderly members and/or households with young children is to assess how current practices relate to current outcomes.

  • Targeting Index – ACF can furnish grantees with information on the elderly targeting index and the young child targeting index for the most recent year for which States have submitted a Household Report.  Alternatively, ACF can furnish grantees with information on the number of income eligible households by vulnerable group and State can compute targeting indexes for heating assistance using information from their LIHEAP program management databases.
  • Outreach Practices – Grantees need to take stock of their existing outreach procedures.  Specific questions include:
    • General Awareness – What types of general awareness outreach is being conducted by the grantee?  Is there any information on who that outreach is targeting?
    • Specific Awareness – What types of targeted outreach are being conducted by the grantee?  Is there any information on the effectiveness of that outreach?
    • Content – Is there anything in the outreach plan the explicitly addresses issues that may be relevant to elderly households or young child households?
  • Intake Practices – Grantees need to examine their existing intake procedures.  Specific design issues include:
  • Application Periods – Are there special application periods for vulnerable households?
  • Application Options – Are different methods of completing the application available?
  • Application Support – Is application assistance, including on a one-on-one basis, available to targeted households?
  • Benefits – Are special benefit levels set for targeted households?

For each grantee, the combined set of outreach and intake procedures is likely to be responsible for the current targeting outcomes. However, the program director also must be alert to special factors that are unique to the grantee’s program that have an influence.

General Outreach

The literature from both FSP and SCHIP indicates it is important to establish a basic level of awareness of the program to serve as a foundation for the more targeted outreach activities.  All of the interviewed State program mangers indicated that they had an outreach plan and that outreach was conducted at the start of each program year.  However, while many respondents to the survey indicated that they thought additional outreach was needed to increase awareness, they were hesitant to fund more outreach when their programs only have funding to serve 10 percent to 50 percent of income eligible households.

At a minimum, it would be appropriate for those State LIHEAP program managers that delegate outreach responsibilities to local intake agencies to conduct a more intensive review of the individual methods and materials used by those agencies.  By establishing a consistent message across agencies they would have more ability to ensure that the general outreach materials do not deter elderly or young child households from participating.  Further, by making sure that intake agencies are partnering with other appropriate community-based agencies on outreach, they can make sure that their program message is reaching targeted households.

Specific Outreach and Intake Strategies

Once grantees are confident that a basic level of awareness has been established, grantees can work to establish additional specific outreach strategies that would increase awareness, understanding, and action among targeted groups.
Specific outreach strategies include:

  • Agencies Serving Targeted Households – By conducting outreach through agencies that serve targeted households, a State LIHEAP program may be able to reach more of the targeted households and receive more attention because individuals trust those agencies;
  • Materials – By tailoring outreach materials to explicitly focus on the targeted households, targeted clients may be more likely to pay attention to the information furnished by the materials;
  • Benefit Amount – By including the benefit amount in the outreach materials, clients may be more motivated to apply for benefits; and
  • Targeted Program Participants – Sending outreach materials to targeted households that participate in other programs may better focus outreach efforts on households that are likely to participate in assistance programs.

Specific intake strategies include:

  • Screening – Some programs screen the recipients of other programs to assess eligibility for LIHEAP and automatically enroll clients in the program;
  • Priority – Some programs give priority to the targeted households by establishing a special application period;
  • Reducing Barriers/Costs – Some programs establish special application procedures for the targeted, while others conduct intake at special sites or offer special assistance to targeted households; and
  • Increasing Benefits – Some programs offer additional benefits to targeted households in recognition of their special needs.  This has the added advantage of increasing the motivation of targeted households to participate.

Based on the individual experiences of the interviewed State LIHEAP programs, some more specific actions that might be effective include:

  • Centralized Application Systems – While local intake agencies do an important job of working with individual clients on applications, it also may be appropriate to establish a centralized State-level system to process certain kinds of applications. Two of the interviewed States had success with processing applications at the State LIHEAP office to enable certain groups to better access to program enrollment.
  • Special Application Periods – While some States have special application periods for elderly households, few have such periods for young child households.  Special application periods help to target specific groups, but also can reduce office waiting times for elderly and young child households, both of which have difficulty with crowded offices.
  • Year Round Application Periods – In general, special application periods are one or two months prior to the opening of the general LIHEAP program.  However, if a State had a centralized processing option, it could take LIHEAP applications throughout the year for elderly and young child households.  In particular, as most elderly households consistently pay their energy bills, a year-round application period with a once a year payment might give elderly households the benefit they need while also ensuring that they are able to apply for benefits whenever a caseworker identifies the need for the program.

Each grantee is likely to find that some of the identified strategies are already in place.  What is most important is to assess what is and is not being done to target vulnerable households, and then implement procedures that address the missing targeting elements.

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Footnotes

  1. LIHEAP program managers from eight States with high, moderate, and low elderly household recipiency targeting indexes were interviewed. LIHEAP program managers from nine States with high, moderate, and low young child household recipiency targeting indexes were interviewed. The interviewed program managers were from Arizona, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Vermont. The researchers and ACF appreciate the responses and insights furnished by the program managers. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are solely those of analysts from APPRISE and do not necessarily reflect the views of ACF or of the responding State LIHEAP program managers.
  2. The decline in both the elderly recipiency targeting index and the young child recipiency targeting index was statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.
  3. See Section II.A for a definition of a recipiency targeting rate and for information on how high, moderate, and low targeting rates were assigned
  4. For both groups, States with targeting indexes at or above 100 are considered to be targeting the population group. For elderly households, the States with indexes below 100 are further divided into those with indexes above the national average recipiency targeting index and those below the national average. For young child households, the States with indexes above 100 are further divided into those with indexes above the national average recipiency targeting index and those with indexes below the national average.
  5. The participation in non-entitlement programs is sometimes called a “coverage rate” (GAO, 2005) in order to acknowledge that the goal of these programs is not to reach all eligible households, but only those who can be served within given funding limits.
  6. In an entitlement program, every household that meets the program eligibility requirements must be served by the program, no matter what the total cost. SSI is an example of an entitlement program. In a non-entitlement program, there is a limit to program funding. So, households that meet the eligibility requirements can receive benefits only as long as funding is available.
  7. A respondent to the CPS-ASEC survey is interviewed in February, March, or April and furnishes information on annual income for the prior calendar year. A respondent to the SIPP survey is interviewed three times a year and furnishes information on monthly income for each of the previous four months. Since participation in many social welfare programs is based on retrospective income for the last month or three months, or on prospective income for the next month or three months, the SIPP does a better job of estimating program eligibility.
  8. The decline in both the number of participants and the participation rate was of concern to program managers. If the number of participants had declined because fewer households were eligible for the program, program managers might have considered that a positive outcome. However, with participation rates falling, program managers were concerned that the program was not reaching households that needed assistance.
  9. The studies found do not distinguish in their discussion of barriers between households with older children and those with younger children.
  10. The model parameters represent the change in the number of percentage points. For example, in this case the change in the percentage of households that believed they were eligible for the program might have dropped from 66 percent to 50 percent, a change of 16 percentage points.


 

  1. USDA funded these demonstration projects with six States that participated for a two-year period.
  2. Source: Special tabulation of the 2008 CPS ASEC by APPRISE.
  3. Special tabulations prepared by APPRISE from the 2005 RECS show that 93 percent of elderly households report that they never skip paying their energy bill while only 64 percent of nonelderly households make that statement.


 

  1. Special tabulations prepared by APPRISE from the 2005 RECS show that elderly households with incomes below poverty have equivalent energy bills but higher energy burdens than nonelderly households.
  2. There is an important difference between outreach to participants of other programs and screening participants of other programs. Outreach to program participants might increase administrative costs, since it would involve mailing applications to households that might not be interested in the program or eligible for the program. Screening of program participants might actually reduce administrative costs, since it would involve qualifying households for benefits without additional intake office costs


 

  1. As discussed in Section IV of the report, community or social groups can be effective for outreach (i.e., furnishing information about the program). However, service agencies such as AOA offices are more appropriate for intake since elderly households would be hesitant to apply for benefits at their senior center.
  2. As discussed in Section IV of the report, schools or community groups can be effective for outreach (i.e., furnishing information about the program). However, service agencies such as Head Start Centers are more appropriate for intake since young child households would not to apply for benefits at their child’s public school.

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Appendix A
Survey Instrument


 

General Outreach Procedures

Does your program have an outreach plan?
Does your program have an outreach budget?

  • Program Outreach – Do any recipients of other programs receive direct mail outreach (e.g., TANF, Food Stamps, SSI)?
  • Recipient Outreach – Do prior year LIHEAP recipients receive direct mail outreach?
  • What other outreach is conducted?
    • PSAs?
    • CAPs?
    • Other?

Targeted Outreach Procedures

  • Does your state have an explicit plan for reaching out to elderly households (60+) or young child households (<6)?
  • Elderly Outreach – What type of outreach (if any) do you conduct through agencies that specially serve the elderly?
    • Office on Aging?
    • AARP?
    • Other?
  • Elderly Materials – Do you have any outreach materials targeted to elderly households?
  • Young Child Outreach – What type of outreach (if any) do you conduct outreach through agencies that serve young children?
  • Head Start?
  • Community Health Centers?
  • Schools?
  • Other?
  • Young Child Materials – Do you have outreach materials targeted to young child households?
  • TANF?
  • Food Stamps?
  • SSI?
  • State Partnerships – What other state-level partnerships have been developed with other agencies?
  • eligibility of elderly households?
  • eligibility of working households?
  • eligibility of young children?
  • eligibility of legal immigrants?
  • asset exclusions for cars, homes, and savings?
  • the benefits amounts?
  • Local Partnerships – What other local partnerships have been developed with agencies?
  • Eligibility / Benefit Information – Do outreach materials explicitly include reference to . . .?

Intake Procedures

  • Automatic Screening – What programs are screened for LIHEAP eligibility (e.g., TANF, Food Stamps, SSI)?
  • Special Enrollment Periods – What groups, if any, are able to apply during special enrollment periods?
  • Special Applications – What groups, if any, are given a special intake form that is designed for them?
  • Special Eligibility – What groups, if any, have special eligibility standards?
  • Previous Recipients
    • Do you send applications to recipients from the prior year?
  • Intake Procedures – What are available intake procedures?
  • Mail?
  • Internet?
  • In-Person?
  • Other?
  • County/Local Welfare Office?
  • Local Community Action Program (CAP) Office?
  • Agencies Serving Elderly – Office on Aging, AARP, Community Health Center?
  • Agencies Serving Young Children – Head Start, Community Health Center?
  • Other Agencies?
  • Utilities?
  • Other?
  • How many in-home visits were conducted by intake staff last year?
  • How many off-site sessions were conducted by intake staff last year?
  • What are the referral mechanisms that lead to home visits?
  • What do you do to try to reach remote areas?
  • Intake Sites – Which are used as intake sites?
  • Site Visits

Benefit Procedures

  • In addition to income, household size, and fuel type does your benefit determination procedure explicitly take into account the following factors?  The household’s . . .?actual energy bill?
  • actual energy burden?
  • status as an elderly household?
  • status as a young child household?