Eleven years ago, Entergy Mississippi decided to do something to help the 25 percent of its customers living in poverty. With direct and indirect assistance programs and partnerships with low-income advocacy groups, the utility company that serves 435,000 customers in 45 Mississippi counties set about making a difference.
The utility’s efforts have been recognized with a Corporate Excellence Award from the National Fuel Funds Network and with Chartwell Inc’s Best Practices Award for Serving Low-Income Customers. Chartwell cited Entergy’s “exceptional commitment and innovative approach to helping poverty-stricken customers move toward self-sufficiency.”
“Helping our low-income customers is the right thing to do, and it makes good business sense. Poverty is expensive,” said Haley Fisackerly, president and chief executive officer. “Investments in our low-income customers are among the most cost-effective investments we can make. Our employees, through our initiatives, are setting a national standard by proving that a utility can serve all its customers, including those having difficulty paying their bills, with dignity, respect and compassion and still earn a fair profit.”
Liz Brister, manager of external affairs, says the company has several ways of helping low-income customers. “We help them get assistance that they qualify for and help keep the assistance flowing,” she said. “We are an advocate for projects and programs that will help them move to self-sufficiency because we’re providing them with tools that will help them manage their finances.”
Grants totaling $2 million have gone to local agencies for programs such as Beat the Heat and to supply fans to low-income customers. Another $3.1 million has gone into the Power to Care Fund that assists with bill paying. This fund is set up to help low-income elderly and disabled.
“These are the most vulnerable of our low-income customers,” Brister said. “The Salvation Army administers this fund with 100 percent going to help pay bills. There are no administrative costs.”
The Metro Jackson Habitat for Humanity has also been an Entergy partner for 11 years. Executive director Cindy Griffin refers to the utility company as a valuable corporate partner that truly cares about serving the entire community.
“They deliberately and intentionally put together collaborative partnerships with community partners to maximize the benefit to the low-income and entire community,” she said. “Habitat for Humanity is proud to work with Entergy on the weatherization program and their annual Habitat build. Together we are able to help more families in need have a better place to live.”
Improving the flow of assistance plays a major role in Entergy’s programs. The company and its partners have been part of Advocacy for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program that for many years was considered a cold weather program with all funds going to cold weather states.
“Entergy got active lobbying at the federal level, making it known that Mississippi and other states served by Entergy needed some of those funds; making it known that heat can be as deadly as cold weather,” Brister said. “It’s one of our success stories. Our Mississippi funding went from about $16 million to $43 million in federal funds.”
She adds that although other energy companies were involved in the push for more funds for hot weather states, Entergy Mississippi definitely took the lead.
Providing customers with tools to help manage their bills, including information about levelized billing, is also part of the assistance. An online program called Ensight provides tips on how to improve energy efficiency. A weatherization kit can be obtained online as well as from Salvation Army offices. Realizing that low-income families may not have home computers, the company provides student weatherization kits in Entergy’s service area through a program called Simple Steps.
“We work closely with the state Department of Human Services and weatherize some homes ourselves. We have a great partnership with them and with Habitat for Humanity,” Brister said. “Human Services has qualified contractors to do the work. Our goal is to weatherize 500 houses this year.”
With Destination Education, Entergy is involved with helping customers move to self-sufficiency through education.
“Education is a big priority, and we work closely with the state Department of Education on innovation and anything that will help improve education and pull our state out of poverty,” Brister said. “Entergy is committing to use our income and charitable involvement to improve education and increase access to early childhood education in Mississippi.”
The company supports Mississippi Building Blocks, a pilot program for early childhood education that has a goal to build support and develop a quality program that will go statewide.
All of the low-income assistance programs are managed by a group of employees called Low Income Champs with representation of employees of all areas. “These employees are the foot soldiers,” Brister said. “They oversee these programs and have folks in communities we serve to communicate with these partner agencies.”
BEFORE YOU GO…
… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.
If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.Click for more info