New outreach approach in Energy Assistance yields more applications, happy participants

The Energy Assistance Program (EA) team in the Clackamas County Social Services Division is constantly looking for ways to innovate and improve service for low-income Clackamas residents. One of the team’s main goals is to increase the number of program participants who enroll for services prior to receiving a utility shutoff notice. This goal has two main benefits:

  • Participants have uninterrupted heat during winter months (or cool air during extreme heat); AND
    EA can serve more residents as the cost of reconnecting service is significantly more than the average payment to maintain service.

In pursuit of this goal, the team has conducted outreach events in rural areas, distributed information through community partners, and offered monthly enrollment opportunities at state Aging & People with Disabilities offices. Newly equipped with a full-service mobile office that ensures remote access to the EA database and the ability to upload key documents, the EA team has now taken community outreach to a new level.

In December, EA began partnering with affordable housing providers to bring program information and enrollment services to low-income housing complexes. Residents can meet with EA staff, ask questions and fill out required paperwork from the comfort of their home location. If they are missing documentation, they can quickly return to their apartment to grab what they need, streamlining the participant experience.

In addition to being convenient for the program participant, this approach allows EA to more effectively reach target populations, such as low-income older adults who traditionally have not used EA services because of misconceptions about the program. It also enables the team to reach participants before they are in an energy crisis, thus supporting the program goals. And it has facilitated to more low-key, friendly interaction between staff and participants and increased overall satisfaction for all involved.

“I have to tell you, you guys ROCK!!! I know that sounds funny, but it is the truth. My residents have been very grateful for the assistance they have been receiving. I have heard several make comments about how they can use their heaters now and they can do a little bit of baking. They are grateful for this service,” wrote Marie Alaniz, resident service coordinator with Northwest Housing Alternatives.

In the first three months of implementation, the new approach has yielded more than 250 applications, about 20% of which are from households who are new to the program.