Iowa's REACH Program Evaluation Summary
The Iowa REACH project, called Seeing RED for Reducing Energy Distress, was managed by the Mid-Iowa Community Action Incorporated under a contract with the Bureau of Energy Assistance, Iowa Department of Human Rights. Other agencies involved with Iowa's REACH project were the Woodbury County Community Action Agency and Mid-Sioux Opportunity.
Two years: 1999 and 2000
The goal of the program was to increase the sustainability of residential energy costs for low-income households. To further that goal, the Iowa REACH program adopted a three-part strategy: 1) to identify the opportunities for sustainable change, 2) to develop family understanding of where the greatest opportunities for positive change exist, and 3) to assess the behavioral and financial efforts required to achieve those opportunities.
At-risk households considered particularly vulnerable in their ability to meet their energy costs. This vulnerability would be determined from the presence of a combination of low-income status with one of three alternative energy usage characteristics: 1) below average energy usage; 2) above average energy usage; or 3) arrearages larger than twice the household's monthly budget billing amount and older than the current heating season.
Seeing RED was established to deliver a package of services to participants; these included: 1) risk assessment and identification; 2) energy use information; 3) goal setting assistance; 4) family budgeting assistance; and 5) energy efficiency investments.
To deliver these services, the project called for Seeing RED field staff to conduct home visits with participant households to investigate household energy use, sources of income, and budget strategies to help meet household living needs. The project also called for energy audits to assess the potential for improving the thermal integrity of the participants' homes.
The outcome sought by the REACH program was energy self-sufficiency for REACH participants. Energy self-sufficiency was measured in terms of acquiring reasonable energy consumption without the threat of large arrearages, loss of service or the need to make unreasonable budget choices between competing household necessities (e.g., heat or eat).
The evaluation concludes that Seeing RED did not deliver the customer self-sufficiency outcomes it sought to achieve, as follows:
- Program participants did not experience a sustainable annual home energy burden;
- Program participants experienced winter home energy bills that would – without outside assistance such as LIHEAP – consume 40% or more of their winter incomes;
- Program participants were not able to pay their outstanding utility arrearages in a full and timely manner, as only half of all utility bill payments from Seeing RED customers resulted in zero balances on their utility accounts;
- Program participants fell further behind on their utility bills and those who entered the program with high arrears maintained and increased their level of arrears.
The evaluation also reports that the Seeing RED project successfully delivered considerable energy efficiency services to low-income households that were in need of such services. Unfortunately, Seeing RED was not intended to be an energy efficiency project. However, the evaluation notes that the project was a tremendous success as a learning tool. The multiple lessons learned include how to identify and enroll customers to be assisted, how to staff a project, and how to train, supervise and administer such a staff.