Words from our President: NASCSP’s True Colors
by Steve Payne
A recent episode of The Colbert Report poked fun at gas company, Talisman Energy’s latest public relations efforts to “greenwash,” as Stephen Colbert put it, hydraulic fracturing (fracking). In the wake of widespread public concern over the possible environmental impacts of fracking, Talisman released a coloring book for kids that illustrates the benefits of this controversial practice. The coloring book apparently features a “Friendly Fracosaurus” character who explains the mechanics of fracking in lively line drawings.
Struck by this interesting PR effort on the part of the drilling industry, I began to look around. Turns out all kinds of causes out there have a coloring book to peddle their political agenda. That’s right, a coloring book. The pro-frackers, the anti-Schwarzeneggers, and the Tea Partiers all have them. There’s even one by the Obama administration with nice platitudes about nationalized health care, freedom, and jobs. Hmmm. I’m not sure there’s really any political advantage to exploiting young children’s love of smearing colored wax on paper, but I guess it’s one way to get your message out there.
Getting our message out there is constantly on the minds of NASCSP staff and leadership. We’re working tirelessly behind the scenes to get our messages out and to impact important decisions in these difficult economic times. We’re continually combating inaccurate press about CSBG and WAP, advocating against funding cuts, and providing feedback to the Feds on proposed reforms to programs. Maybe we should try a coloring book.
NASCSP Goes Up the Hill
Our Government Relations team continues to inform legislators about the value of CSBG and WAP. But we’re ratcheting up our game again. Brad Penney has just signed on as our new General Counsel to work with us on policy issues. Additional expertise and more staff means a greater presence on the Hill and more opportunities to get our message out (or to distribute our coloring books).
NASCSP Sends a Message
Last month I mentioned that the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) wants to see some changes in how CSBG operates and asked for input from states, agencies, and partner organizations. So after several meetings with ACF leadership, and countless discussions with states and board members, NASCSP submitted a letter providing strong recommendations around strengthening state authority and flexibility and creating a stronger network.
At the same time we were articulating the States’ perspectives on CSBG reform, NASCSP joined with the Community Action Partnership (CAP), to lay out our common priorities and concerns. A draft of the resulting policy recommendations was put out for comment on CSBG Network websites, several listserves, and at the CAPLAW conference. Thanks, everyone, for the wealth of thoughtful feedback. Overall the joint recommendations affirmed the CSBG Network’s desire to strengthen performance and accountability at all levels. Next, we need to solidify a plan, achieve consensus, and get buy-in from the CSBG Network.
Also, NASCSP and the Community Action Partnership will meet with ACF leadership soon to discuss the recommendations, chart some possible future joint efforts and set some timelines. You’ll hear more about this soon, especially at NASCSP’s annual conference in September. There are many great opportunities for you, our members, to engage in the discussions and work.
NASCSP Makes Friends
You may have noticed we’ve moved into social media to communicate and connect with members and spread the word outside the network. Our posts are informative, timely, and well-received. If you’re not already following us on Twitter and Facebook, do a search for us today “like” and “follow” us.
Social media, blogs, and opinion pieces all give us new platforms from which to counter inaccurate and even slanderous coverage that CSBG and WAP often draw. We also alert our 800-some followers about legislative and advocacy issues as they arise. And the communication doesn’t just flow in one direction. Many Community Action Agencies are very active on social media and it’s great to keep up with them and with what’s going on all around the network as well.
NASCSP Marches On
So why are we still emailing you an 8-1/2 x 11 formatted newsletter each month? Good question. Look for all the good stuff you’ve come to expect and more to migrate to a blog in the coming months, giving you up-to-the-minute information about all that’s going on in the network, as well as interesting articles to fill you in on the latest best practices, resources, and trainings.
Thanks for letting me try out our new coloring book communication strategy on you. I trust you see how much we’re doing here at NASCSP to advocate for low-income people on every front. The most important colors to fill in though, aren’t any new technologies or partnerships. They’re you, our members. Without your engagement in the discussion, sharing ideas, proven practices, insights, data and tireless advocacy in your spheres of influence, the picture is incomplete. When all the crayons in the crayon box are blended together they enhance the impact of the picture. What was once a basic picture, full of potential yet missing something, becomes a vibrant work of art when everyone lends a hand… er, crayon.
Only When it is Dark Enough Can You See the Stars
by Arley Johnson
“Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.” Martin Luther King once spoke these words and his statement speaks to my sentiment at this moment. The Tonko/Bass Amendment to the 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill has just failed in the House of Representatives. This legislation would have transferred $227 million back to state and federal weatherization and local energy programs. We, who understand the importance of WAP and its benefits to those who are struggling most in these challenging economic times, cannot help but feel it was a dark day indeed.
We have been working hard to expand on the vote of confidence WAP received earlier in the year. After strong debate, the 2011 Budget bill, sponsored by Congressman Tonko (D, NY), fell short only ten votes to obtain House support for the restoration of funding at 2010 levels. Alas, the House vote on the 2012 Tonko Amendment fell more than 60 votes short.
Losing support is never a good thing. However, we have been in the shadows before and know that, even when we cannot see a path, we can forge one. Right now, we are assessing the factors involved in these results and reevaluating our strategy. This means redoubling our efforts to clearly explain to policymakers the high points of WAP and disseminating factual information to dispel the falsehoods clouding the discussion.
Unfortunately, these appear to be dark times for the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) as well. The Administration and members of Congress appear not to understand why CSBG was established or how to judge its success. As we all know, the CSBG network of Community Action Agencies (CAA) was designed so that each agency could assess the needs of its community and address those needs to the best of its abilities. Across the country, local control has meant that each agency can provide a different range of site-specific programs tailored to each individual community’s needs. While this may complicate oversight and performance review, it is one of the prime strengths of the CAA system.
So, for both WAP and CSBG, our efforts are to show policymakers the strengths and victories of these two systems. Our good stories are real and plentiful. The stars are already shining. We just need to move the clouds of misunderstanding and deceit out of the way.
All species capable of grasping this fact manage better in the struggle for existence than those which rely upon their own strength alone: the wolf, which hunts in a pack, has a greater chance of survival than the lion, which hunts alone.
—Christian Lous Lange
by Arley Johnson
I hate to sound like a broken record having to again report to you that federal government is stuck in place until final decisions are made on raising the debt limit. The rhetoric on all sides of the issue has been thick, harsh and disconcerting. At times it has been confusing trying to distinguish what the key points of contention are and where the battle lines are being drawn.
President Obama appears to be sparring with Speaker John Boehner one day, Minority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell another day, and then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor the next. Even more bizarre are the battles between the Republicans themselves. Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor are not on the same page and appear to disagree with what can and cannot pass the House. Senate Minority Leader McConnell appears to realize the horrible results to the faith and credit of the United States if the debt limit isn’t raised, but he is attempting to broker a deal that he says will make it more difficult for President Obama to get reelected if passed.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and President Obama abruptly ended one of the White House negotiating sessions. They conflicted over providing a short-term increase in the debt limit, which President Obama ruled out. Majority Leader Cantor argued that a short-term increase is needed because Democrats are split on the levels of cuts needed for raising the debt ceiling – with the White House supporting $1.7 billion and Senate Democrats backing $1.4 billion. Republicans say any cuts should match the size of the borrowing, which is at least $2.4 billion. President Obama after being asked repeatedly about the short-term increase as the session ended, left the meeting. Democratic aides suggested talk of a walkout is “completely overblown” and alleged Cantor interrupted President Obama.
Meanwhile a group of House Conservatives is increasingly proving to be a sticking point in reaching a deal. Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of the 175-member Republican Study Committee is leading a group of 36 Republicans adamantly opposed to raising the debt limit unless Congress caps federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product, and requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber to increase taxes. While the group’s plan has little chance of passing, some concessions may have to be made to House conservatives if their votes are needed to pass the debt ceiling deal.
I’ve spoken in my earlier article about the Energy and Water Appropriations vote and the defeat of the Tonko/Bass amendment. We will be actively working the Senate to correct some of the damage done by that vote. The House will be marking up legislation affecting CSBG in one to two weeks and we are bracing for some difficulties with that vote as well. We will be sending out alerts and calls to action as the legislation proceeds. Please assist as much as you can as we attempt to support the viability and mission of CSBG.
Some information provided by CQ.
Life is like a coin.
You can spend it any way you wish, but you only spend it once.
CSBG Spotlight: Kansas Teamwork Improves Data Collection and Validation Process
edited by Mark Schmeissing
Over the course of the last year, the Kansas Housing Resource Corporation (KHRC) partnered with the Kansas Association of Community Action Programs (KACAP) to improve their data collection and validation processes. Recognizing the challenges put forth by the Obama administration for performance measurement, they both saw the value in improving CSBG sub-grantee program planning and reporting. The KHRC and KACAP representatives collectively planned project approaches and KHRC deployed CSBG discretionary resources, in the form of grants to the Association, to support KACAP staff involvement. The grants allowed KACAP to conduct on-site data validation visits at each Kansas CSBG sub-grantee administrative office.
During the visits, KACAP’s KanDo! ROMA Coordinator reviewed the structure and use of the statewide data collection software program, CAPTAIN. The Coordinator also discussed how each agency collected and retained information that supported the collected data and how the sub-grantees’ program progress and outcome reports were generated. When changes were recommended, most were made immediately during the KanDo! ROMA Coordinator’s visit and all findings and recommendations were recorded in written reports provided within 30 days of the visit by KACAP to both the agency and the KHRC CSBG Program Manager. Due to the success of this approach, on-site data validation visits are now slated to occur annually.
The KHRC CSBG Program Manager also helped plan and support a detailed review and analysis of each CSBG sub-grantee’s quarterly outcome and demographic reports submitted to the State. Building on the existing strong relationship with KACAP and drawing on the KACAP KanDo! Coordinator’s expertise in ROMA, Kansas CSBG reporting, and the CAPTAIN database system, KHRC provided CSBG discretionary resources to KACAP that enabled KACAP staff to conduct in-depth reviews of the quarterly reports submitted by CSBG sub-grantees. Reported program outcomes were compared to targeted outcomes as well as to similar or identical outcomes from each CAA in the previous year. Pertinent questions and recommendations were brought to the attention of CAA staff, including the CAA Executive Director, and also shared with the KHRC CSBG Program Manager.
The detailed analysis has helped the CSBG Program Manager in monitoring CAA performance and resulted in improved reporting and program planning by individual CSBG sub-grantees. The KanDo! ROMA Coordinator discovered that most issues addressed in the quarterly report analysis projects did not resurface in information provided by CSBG sub-grantees for the annual CSBG IS Report, pointing to an immediate, statewide improvement in reporting and accountability as a result of the project.
During the recent data improvement process, several CSBG sub-grantees expressed, through their participation in the statewide KanDo! Taskforce, the need for an improved data collection and reporting system for CSBG. In response, KHRC financially supported and participated in a comprehensive review and comparison of available CSBG data collection and reporting software products. This involved identifying systems, presenting options to Kansas CSBG network representatives, and planning and coordinating statewide meetings. The comprehensive review has required the dedication of time and resources of KHRC staff, as well as support of the strong partnership between the KHRC and the KACAP.
The project demonstrates responsiveness to changing federal requirements as well as to local agency needs. The unified effort of the Kansas Housing Resource Corporation, the Kansas Association of Community Action Programs, and the local Community Action Agencies tells a powerful message about how they are stronger as a network. They can address the President’s concerns and tackle issues together.
Source: Kansas FY 2010 CSBG IS Survey
Navigating the Road to Financial Stability
by Eric Stam
Amidst great discussion about the macroeconomic condition of the United States, a group of practitioners, researchers, and policymakers gathered on Capitol Hill to discuss the micro-economic reality for many lower-income Americans. The focus stayed on savings and credit for this group, convened by the Congressional Savings and Ownership Caucus, the Asset Building Program of the New American Foundation, and the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin. At an event framed as seeking ways to “Rebuild the Road to Financial Stability,” the panelists sought to identify “potholes” in the road, as well as consider various tools to remove those “potholes.”
The importance of liquid assets dominated the conversation during the first of two panels. Daniel Schneider, of Princeton University, presented new survey data showing that U.S. households have very little confidence in their ability to meet an unexpected, emergency expense of $2,000. Further, the survey asked where people would turn in order to come up with $2,000. Amongst the responses, savings accounts stood out as the main method used to cope with an emergency. In addition, those respondents who expressed the most confidence in their ability to find the needed money, more frequently indicated that they would utilize savings as a the primary method of coping than those who had less confidence in their ability to cope. Schneider pointed to this as evidence of the vital importance of liquid savings not only as a foundation of financial stability, but also of the perception of financial stability.
Signe-Mary McKernan, a Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, also presented evidence showing that having short-term liquid assets, i.e., funds in a savings account, made a significant difference in a family’s ability to cope with a negative economic event. For example, given an involuntary job loss, 44% of liquid-asset poor families experienced general deprivation, as compared to 16% of not liquid-asset poor families. The first panel generally concluded that while various savings and credit products exist for lower-income Americans, more focus should be put on the need for highly liquid assets that are accessible in the short-term. Pursuing this focus could potentially impact longer-term savings programs like IDAs as well as asset limit policies for many government services and benefits.
During the second half of the event, panelists discussed several different ideas for removing the “potholes” from the road to financial stability. David John, of the Heritage Foundation, discussed the advantages of automatic enrollment in retirement savings accounts, such as 401(k)s, as well as automatic enrollment into non-retirement savings products, which resonated with the earlier panel’s emphasis on short-term savings. Ellen Lazar, of the FDIC, described two pilot projects the FDIC is conducting with various banks. One program, the Small-Dollar Loan Pilot, aimed to demonstrate the possibility for banks to offer affordable small loans, while still making a profit, effectively creating a safer alternative to very costly, and often predatory, payday lending products. The other program, the Model Safe Accounts Pilot program, works with banks to develop a model and template for safe and low-cost transactional and savings accounts. Access to these types of accounts helps customers avoid using check cashing services, which can often be quite costly as well.
Throughout the discussion, one theme continued to echo in each presentation, question, and discussion: lower-income Americans need access to the same wide range of financial services and products as the rest of the nation. The road to financial stability requires a diverse set of tools to navigate its “potholes.” Part of the challenge for policymakers is to ensure that every American has the complete set of tools they need.
For more information about the event, visit: http://newamerica.net/events/2011/road_to_financial_stability. For more information about the FDIC pilot projects, visit: http://economicinclusion.gov/initiatives.html. For more information about automatic 401(k)s, visit: http://www.retirementmadesimpler.org/.
WAP Recovery Act Success Story: Hawaii
by Ameer Bishay
In the last several years, the WAP network has placed increasing emphasis on warm climate weatherization strategies, resulting in state-of-the-art best practices for hot climate states and a large boost to the delivery of quality WAP services. In spite of these strides, you still may not think WAP is as relevant in a tropical climate as in colder climate. However, the state of Hawaii contradicts this by operating its Weatherization Assistance Program using cutting edge technology and forward thinking, ultimately providing much needed, effective services to its residents.
Hawaii’s unique situation, due to high electricity costs and the complicated logistics of managing multiple islands, means that they must take a different path to tackle energy efficiency needs. As a testament to Hawaii’s creative approach to managing WAP, the state is consistently ranked as high-performing. As a network, they are conditioned to emphasize air sealing, insulation and mechanical efficiency, while in tropical climates greater emphasis is placed on baseloads and cooling systems, making refrigerators, domestic hot water heating, and lighting priority measures.
Along with the challenges of high energy costs (up .37 kHw cents in some locations), the high costs of real estate and an overall increase in occupancy rates over time has precipitated a need for greater water storage technology and delivery systems. With nearly one-third of a Hawaiian’s electricity bill in most homes without air conditioning going towards heating water, it should be no surprise that efficient water heating technology is a large focus. Along with concentrating on domestic hot water technology, integrating low flow water fixtures, smart-strips, and other baseload measures are common. In addition to various baseload measures, agencies conduct client education using comprehensive training materials and videos. Some providers offer site specific training for a client’s home.
Traditionally, the most frequent water heating retrofits in Hawaii were to install solar hot water systems. The landscape is changing now due to the introduction of hybrid electric heat pump water heaters since they have significantly lower upfront costs and yield short payback periods. Many hybrid electric water heaters are plug and play, meaning their installation is no more complicated than a conventional replacement. Sonya Seng, WAP Specialist for the State of Hawaii, suggests that they see impressive Savings to Investment Ratios (SIR) that range from 2-4 for direct install replacements. With such high fuel costs, turning to solar and hybrid technologies is a practical solution for tackling energy efficiency retrofits.
One might ask: how does a program allocated approximately $200,000 a year and so geographically disconnected become a top performer? The answer is simple, says Sonya, “leadership at a local level.” With the introduction of increased funding due to the Recovery Act, Program Managers at the local level quickly evaluated their strengths and assessed their deficiencies and swiftly made sure areas requiring additional assistance got what they needed. The State also adopted and standardized improvements in technology that yield more cost-effective returns. This refreshing, innovative approach is helping to insure that “Weatherization Works” in Hawaii.
If you would like to learn more about hybrid heat pump technology visit: http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/water_heating/index.cfm/mytopic=12840.
1 State of Hawaii, Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Solar Water Heating Fact Sheet
Leveraging Success Story: Washington
by Rebecca Stewart
As the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) reaches the end of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) period on March 31, 2012, States and local agencies are looking to the future. To sustain the program and ensure the uninterrupted provision of quality services to low-income people, the network is exploring innovative partnerships and initiatives. WAP creates good, green jobs and helps reduce our reliance on foreign oil. Additionally, no one wants to scale down the ramped up programs and lay off trained workers, especially as the effects of the recession persist. The uncertainty of future Department of Energy (DOE) funding exacerbates these concerns. States around the nation have taken the lead in connecting with energy efficiency and low-income stakeholders to find alternate means to fund the WAP in a post-Recovery Act age. Below is the first of a series of profiles demonstrating how States leverage significant funds to bridge the gap between low- income energy efficiency retrofit needs and available resources, as well as to continue the pace and breadth of the Recovery Act WAP going forward.
Washington State leveraging efforts, which provided $8.3 million to WAP in PY2010, were originally funded with Petroleum Violation Escrow (PVE) charges, or oil overcharges, comprised of the fines oil companies paid in response to their violation of federal oil price caps in the years following the OPEC oil embargo in the 1970’s. In Washington, the state initiated a matching program to contribute $1 to each utility dollar spent, significantly leveraging the utility funds. The state requires at least a dollar for dollar investment by utilities. As the program progressed, Washington realized that some flexibility would be beneficial and now allows in-kind matches, such as the utility performing energy conservation work. Utilities also started to contract directly with local agencies to perform these services. Originally, the state hoped these dollars would provide an infinite revolving resource. However, due to the demand for matching funds far in excess of expectations, the funds did not become a permanent revolving loan fund. For the first 10 years of the initiative, efforts were funded strictly through PVE, but as PVE funding ended over time, by the mid to late 90’s the state transitioned to capital funds from a housing trust fund sustained by the sale of bonds. By 2000, capital funds became the sole source of funding for matching utility funds.
Once the amount of available funds is established each year, the state issues a county planning estimate based on heating degree days and low-income population by county to determine the proportional amount of funds appropriate for each jurisdiction, then sets leveraging goals. The local agency in that area then works with utilities, landlords, and other interested parties to raise matching funds. Next, three involved partners: the state, local agency, and utility, sign an agreement that commits the utility to providing a specified level of funding and stating that the state will match it once the utility reaches its goals. Once the contract is executed, the local agency sends in reports to confirm the funds disbursed and work done. With the utility effort confirmed, the state releases the matching funds.
The Washington WAP network uses utility funds for traditional weatherization energy efficiency services as well as repairs in support of those measures. Local agencies have flexibility within what DOE and utilities cover to provide comprehensive services. The hope is to expand efforts to provide additional repair and rehabilitation work as the economy recovers.
Steve Payne, Managing Director of the Housing Improvements & Preservation Unit in the Washington Department of Commerce, which administers the WAP, encourages using DOE funds as allowed to pursue leveraging efforts. In Washington, DOE funded leveraging efforts spurred the establishment of The Energy Project, which serves as an advocate for the network, works with the Utilities and Transportation Commission, and looks for untapped opportunities. For instance, if a utility wants a rate increase, The Energy Project can argue that this will adversely affect low- income ratepayers and ask for protection of low-income customers, such as bill assistance and/or weatherization funding. Payne advises creating a similar group saying, “You have to be at the table. Investor owned utilities will have advisory groups you can be a part of, especially leading up to rate cases.” Establishment of a steering committee comprised of the state and local agencies can provide oversight and approve future plans. Payne notes, “These efforts are complicated – to have someone who can be the expert and advocate on behalf of local agencies makes the likelihood of success even greater.”