Holmes Report 04 Feb 2010 // 12:00AM GMT
Entergy Corporation has spent the past decade and $45 million executing an ambitious program to help its low-income customers move toward economic self-sufficiency. Since its inception, the initiative has helped tens of thousands of Entergy customers meet their financial obligations and supported expansion of innovative anti-poverty programs throughout the company’s four-state service region. Entergy’s work has been recognized as an industry leader effort, and it is sought out for advice on how to help those customers who have fallen into the at-risk category because of the recession.
The low-income customer assistance initiative began in 1999 with Chairman and Chief Executive Officer J. Wayne Leonard laying out for Entergy’s employees the business need for helping Entergy’s low-income customers and fighting the pervasive poverty that has hobbled the region’s economy and quality of life.
More than 25 percent of Entergy’s 2.3 million residential customers need some form of government support just to survive. The four states Entergy serves are in the top five of states with the highest poverty rates: Mississippi has the highest rate in the country, followed by Arkansas in second, Louisiana fourth, and Texas fifth. Childhood poverty statistics are even bleaker: 15 of the 30 counties with the nation’s highest child poverty rates are rural counties in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.
As the initiative took root, it became part of the company’s culture, a way of doing business that all employees understand benefits not just Entergy, but its customers and the communities where they live. The program has been recognized as a best practice within the industry by the Edison Electric Institute and Chartwell, Inc.
The initiative can be grouped into three major areas of focus:
- Helping low-income customers manage their bills and reduce their energy usage by providing energy conservation tools and education.
- Increasing the flow of funding and assistance by lobbying federal, state and local government to support legislation that addresses the needs of low-income individuals.
- Helping low-income families and individuals achieve self-sufficiency by supporting programs that provide education, job training, affordable housing and asset creation efforts such as matched savings accounts, or Individual Development Accounts.
Each of the five Entergy operating company presidents is required to set measurable objectives that focus on low-income issues. The measures are included in the annual performance review for every operating company president. Within each operating company there is a designated Low Income Champ and Low Income Team charged with building relationships and partnerships to address the issues and needs of low income families and individuals in their communities.
Among the quantitative and qualitative measures used to track the program’s impact from its start through 2008 include:
· Legislative outcomes
o Increase LIHEAP funding nationally and Entergy’s revenues
§ 1999 -- $1.1 billion, $6.1 million in revenue to Entergy
§ 2009 -- $5.1 billion, $50 million in revenue to Entergy
o Increase funding for federal Weatherization Assistance Program
§ 1999 -- $6.7 million to Entergy states
§ 2009 -- $500 million to Entergy states (in FY2009-10)
o Push legislation/regulations creating permanent sources of public funding for bill payment assistance
§ 1999 – Texas only
§ 2009 – Passed in New Orleans, Arkansas and Texas
· Internal and external fundraising goals
o Increase donations to The Power to Care Fund
§ 1999 -- $681,000 in donations
§ 2009 -- $2.3 million (10-year total $15 million)
· Outreach to low-income customers
§ 1999 – Low-income customers largely unaware of Entergy programs
§ 2009 – 200,000 printed pieces distributed annually and using new and existing technologies to reach out with time-critical messages.
· Avoided disconnects for nonpayment
§ No tracking by customer class
§ Approximately 17,000 annually
· Use annual low-income summits to increase advocate relationships
§ 1999 – no systemic means to develop relationships with community partners
§ 2009 – Network of more than 9,500 service providers, government officials, churches and community action agencies
· Leverage corporate/private dollars
§ 1999 – No programs to leverage donations
§ 2009 -- $1.6 million in donations to expand Individual Development Accounts asset-building program to more than 60 communities, generating economic impact of $69 million
· Outreach to help increase filing for Earned Income Tax Credit
§ 22 percent increase in taxpayers filing for EITC between 1999 and 2009 in four states served by Entergy
In addition, Entergy regularly sponsors in-depth research on issues related to energy- and poverty-related issues, including economic impact of low-income energy assistance programs and the economic impact of early childhood education. The research is used in educating policymakers about poverty-related issues. Copies of the research are also posted on www.entergy.com pages that are dedicated to giving advocates information they need to help low-income customers move toward becoming self-sufficient.