Low-income households that can’t afford their energy bills may benefit from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, otherwise known as LIHEAP. This federal program helps low-income households pay for home energy bills, cover the cost of an energy crisis, as well as pay for weatherization repairs.
LIHEAP is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Community Services which provides funds to each state for disbursement. The program pays funds directly to your energy company on your behalf to cover your bills. Each state has a different name for the program and each state has regular and emergency funds to help those in need. Each state may also have different requirements including application deadlines, qualifying income, and other criteria. Discuss your eligibility with your state’s office to get the help you need.
Who Qualifies for LIHEAP?
Each state has different eligibility requirements for LIHEAP’s energy assistance program, but in general, you can expect:
- Have a household income that is no greater than 150% of your area’s poverty level
- If you receive other assistance, such as SNAP, TANF, food stamps, or veteran’s benefits, you may automatically qualify
- Live in non-subsidized housing
- Received a utility disconnection notice
While the income limits vary by state, in general, the maximums for a single-family household is $17,820; two-person household $24,030, and a 4-person household $36,450 but make sure to check with your state to see what limits they have in place.
How to Apply
First, you must find out if your utility company participles in LIHEAP. If they do, along with the application, be prepared to provide:
- Copies of your utility bills
- Proof of income
- Proof of your address
- Proof of citizenship and social security numbers for you and household members
If you experience an emergency, provide the shutoff notice, the notice of immediately necessary furnace repairs, and/or proof of the emergency if different than mentioned. The more evidence of need that you can provide, the more likely you are to get the funds.
Each state has application deadlines. Some states, like Washington D.C., Arkansas, California, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Oregon, allow you to apply year-round. Other states have specific application deadlines that are typically between October 1 to March 31, but each state varies, some have longer application dates.
The application dates don’t apply if you need emergency assistance though – you can apply for emergency aid year-round.
You’ll find the application in a few places:
What are the Benefits?
Those in need can apply for one of two types of benefits – regular and emergency. If you need regular benefits, you apply for them annually. If approved, you’ll receive large grants, but the approval process does take longer, so make sure you apply with plenty of time.
If you need emergency assistance, you’ll receive an answer within 48 hours. Emergency assistance means your utilities are about to be shut off or you are in danger of running out of fuel. In some states, they also offer special benefits for seniors (ages 60 and over). For example, some states offer supplemental utility benefits to seniors that receive Supplemental Social Security Income. The benefit is reduced energy rates, making the bills more affordable.
Other states offer weatherization benefits. In other words, they provide assistance to make a home more energy-efficient. This may include:
- Fixing or replacing broken windows or doors
- Fixing heaters
- Replacing heaters
The goal is to make the home more energy efficient so that the utilities don’t have to run as hard. This helps decrease utility bills, making them more affordable.
How much you receive depends on a variety of factors:
- Number of people in your home
- The total household income
- The fuel type used in the home
- The type of home
- The size of the home
Priority is given to those with the lowest income and highest utility bills. The maximum amount provided varies by state.
How to Receive Your Benefits
If you qualify for LIHEAP, you receive benefits as one lump sum. However, you don’t receive the funds yourself. The government entity sends the funds directly to the utility company on your behalf. The frequency depends on the benefits they approve. Typical, regular benefits are sent in lump sums, though.
What are my Other Options?
Because LIHEAP is a block grant, there are only a certain amount of funds to go around. If funds run out, there are other options including:
- Weatherization Assistance – The US Department of Energy provides each state with funding to help low-income families weatherize their homes, making it more energy-efficient. Priority goes to the elderly and low-income families on TNAF or supplemental Social Security Income.
- Ratepayer Funded Programs – This bill payment assistance program helps low-income families cover their utility bills. Each state has its own requirements and amount they’ll fund. Contact your local state energy department to see if you qualify.
- State-level funding – Your state may also offer other programs for emergency assistance as well as regular funding. Some states use their tax funds while others use General Assistance funds when needed.
If you can’t afford your energy bills, know that you have options at both the federal and state level. While federal funding comes directly through the state; it’s not state funds being used. If you need more funds, your state runs out of federal funds, or you don’t qualify for federal funds, don’t forget to inquire about state assistance.
In either case, contact your local Energy Office to find out where to start, how to apply, and how long the process may take for the energy assistance program. Pay careful attention to deadlines and limits so that you know what to expect and can use your resources to look elsewhere if necessary.