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KY Utility Regulators Reviewing Financial Assistance Programs Over Spending Concerns

Kentucky utility regulators have opened a review into the financial assistance programs that help low-income families pay their gas, water and electric bills.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission is concerned some programs are inconsistently distributing funding meant to help impoverished families.

Utilities offer home energy assistance to help make sure low-income families can keep their heat on in the winter and A/C on in the summer.

Among early findings, the commission discovered varying customer requirements and eligibility as well as inconsistent oversight, administrative costs and financial accountability, according to a press release.

Spokesman Andrew Melnykovych said the commission wants to create more consistency across the programs.

"For example, what percentage of the money collected goes into overhead rather than being distributed directly to the people who need it?” he said.

Low-income advocates that help administer these programs say they welcome further oversight, but don't want to lose control over their programs.

“So we are entirely in favor of responsible programs but we are also in favor of local control because this is funded locally,” said Cathy Hinko, Metropolitan Housing Coalition executive director.

Hinko also serves on the All Seasons Assurance Plan board, which helps serve low-income families in Louisville. She said the needs of each utility and community are different and standardizing the programs could reduce their effectiveness.

Technically, the commission approves all of these home energy financial assistance programs. But Melnykovych said regulators approved the programs in "broad principle," and it's been a long time since many have been reviewed.

Funding for the programs comes from a small surcharge on electric and gas bills, matched by utility shareholders.  Besides helping customers, the programs also help utilities avoid writing off costs and paying for debt collection.

Generally, eligibility is based on federally determined poverty levels

The review won't affect the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which is a similiar federally-funded program.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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