(March 4, 2015) As noted in Chapter 1, finding information on “energy poverty” in Ontario is both time consuming and frustrating as there is no central collection point.
The programs that respond to energy poverty come from various areas that are not necessarily connected. As one example, the Low-income Energy Assistance Program (or LEAP) while available in 440 municipalities in Ontario is in the hands of 75 local distribution companies and accessed via 120 social service agencies.
Another support program referred to as the Emergency Energy Fund or EEF is also available from social service agencies but not all are connected. EEF funds are allocated from the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI); about $300 million from the annual budget of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. In some areas the local United Way and other charities assist when the other two programs are either not available due to regulations or funding is exhausted.
In Toronto the focal point for LEAP is the Neighbourhood Information Post (NIP) which is where I connected with Gladys Wong, the executive director, who was extremely helpful. In operation since 1970, NIP serves the downtown Toronto east community with a population of 90,000. NIP is the agency fielding all requests in Toronto for LEAP. NIP works with Toronto Hydro and Toronto’s “Employment & Social Services” department in respect to the EEF when LEAP cannot provide support for the energy needs of those where Toronto Hydro or Enbridge, etc., have threatened to cut services!
The limit available under LEAP is $500 ($600 for electrically heated homes) when the low-income applicant is delinquent in paying their electricity or gas bill and threatened with a service cut. Amounts in excess of the one-time LEAP limit may be eligible for support from funds allocated under the EEF. Failing to qualify for either of those programs, the burden of support may come from a charity such as the United Way or other local charitable agencies or from a family member.
As Toronto is the focus, let’s compare Toronto Hydro’s (TH) leap activities for the last two years:
|Toronto Hydro||2012||($000)||2013||+ or –|
|Distributor Budget||$660||$ 660|
|Unused Funds from Previous Year||$325||$ 464||+$139|
|LEAP Funds Available||$985||$1,124||+$139|
|% of Total LEAP Funds Available Across all Utilities||20.8%||22.3%||+1.5%|
|Total Grants Disbursed||$491||$ 874||+$383|
|# of Customers Assisted||1,250||$2,150||+900|
Based on information from NIP, they received 5,075 phone calls in 2013 and 6,901 in 2014, an increase of 36%. NIP reported they secured grants for 2,744 households in 2013 versus the 2,150 TH reported, although the former includes LEAP, United Way and EEF support. The shocking part of the NIP information provided was that grant numbers fell in 2013 to 2,548, representing only 36.9% of callers versus the 54.1% they were able to help in 2013.
NIP refer those who fail to qualify for LEAP (TH indicated they declined 173 requests) to the City of Toronto’s Employment & Social Services program and they provided the following. The CHPI allocation to the City of Toronto is set by city “Council” and for 2013/2014 the EEF was $425.6K; support was provided to 595 households.
TH advised me they use the “United Way Settlement Fund,” which supported 921 applicants (presumably of the 2,150 TH assisted) to “top up” customers to $1,000 if they were in need of additional funding. The “top up” provided an additional $408,783 and coincidentally was about the same amount (listed on TH’s “2013 Achievements”) their “United Way employee campaign raised (approximately $400,000 which was recognized with a United Way Spirit Award for Best Employee Campaign Public Sector.)
As one will surmise, 66% (2,744 + 595 = 3,339) of the applicants approaching NIP in 2013 were able to gain assistance, which left 34% of households without assistance; based on the 5,075 calls received.
The 2014 information when released will show a big jump in households suffering from “energy poverty” in only 1 year based on the number of calls received in 2014 (6,901) and a big drop in the percentage assisted.
In my conversations with NIP it became clear the majority seeking assistance were/are seniors trying to remain in their homes living on fixed incomes. Forcing seniors out of their homes serves to raise Ontario’s social services and health care costs as they would be forced to live out the rest of their lives in socially administrated housing giving up their attachment to family homes instead of spending their last years “aging at home”.
The final chapter in this series will explore the latter and how Enbridge, the natural gas distributor altered access to the LEAP and Winter Warmth program.
Parker Gallant is a retired bank executive and a former director of Energy Probe Research Foundation. As with all independent bloggers on this site, Parker’s views do not necessarily reflect those of Energy Probe.