Federally Funded Program (LIHEAP) offers Assistance with Utility Bills
By: Maria J., Published: Mar 9, 2020 | related: Utility Bill Assistance
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP is a federal program that has provided low-income families with energy assistance for more than 30 years. The program is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services but operated by individual state agencies to help individuals pay utility expenses using private money and federal grants. While the program was originally designed to offset the high cost of heating in the Northeast, it is now offered throughout the United States.
Previously, LIHEAP only offered grants for fuel and electricity expenses, but it now includes many services to help low-income households access safer living conditions throughout the year.
How Does LIHEAP Help Low-Income Households?
LIHEAP helps low-income individuals and families pay for heating and cooling costs. Most states also offer a weatherization program to help homeowners make their home more energy efficient to reduce energy waste. The type of assistance varies by state but common LIHEAP services include:
• Grants to help pay heating and cooling bills
• Emergency services for help with utility disconnection and energy crisis
• Weatherization, or low-cost home improvements
LIHEAP focuses on heating and cooling expenses. It does not help pay for sewer and water expenses unless water is used to operate an evaporative cooler or swamp cooler. In these cases, LIHEAP assistance can help with water bills.
Every state has its own qualification standards for LIHEAP and weatherization. Even being qualified for the program does not guarantee you will receive services as each state receives a specific amount of funds for LIHEAP per year. Only about 20% of households that qualify for services receive LIHEAP benefits. Many states coordinate with other programs to find funding solutions when LIHEAP funding runs out. For example, Utah partners with the REACH Program, American Red Cross, Questar's Energy Assistance Fund, and more.
In general, income is the greatest factor that influences eligibility. Each state sets its own income limit that may depend on where you live and the number of people in your household. As a general rule, you must earn less than 150% of the federal poverty level or 60% of your state's median poverty level. A household with one member must make less than $17,820 while a family of four must have income of no more than $36,450. Some states have expanded their programs to help more people qualify, however.
You may qualify for assistance even if you are employed full-time if you earn less than the income limit in your area. You can even qualify if you rent, even if you rent subsidized or public housing.
You may qualify automatically for LIHEAP benefits if you or another household member receives:
• Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
• Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
• Some types of veteran's benefits
• Assistance Amounts Under LIHEAP
LIHEAP is not designed to pay for all energy costs over the entire year or even cover a full month's energy expenses. In most cases, LIHEAP only offers assistance with your primary source of heat, which may be electric, gas, or water (in the case of evaporative coolers).
Households with the highest energy costs receive the highest benefits. While benefits can vary a great deal by household and state, benefits are typically determined by:
Household size, which considers how many people consider the home their primary residence.
• Income of all adult wage earners living in the home.
• Energy needs
• County or energy provider
LIHEAP usually makes payments on your behalf directly to your local utility company.
Many states offer weatherization or basic home repairs in addition to grants for utility bills. These home repairs are designed to reduce energy expenses for the homeowner by improving the energy efficiency of their home. In a few states, acceptance of weatherization services is required to receive any LIHEAP benefits.
Weatherization doesn't cover major repairs, but the funds can be used to add insulation, fix or replace a broken or outdated AC system or furnace, or repair leaky windows and doors. If you are renting your home, you may still qualify for weatherization, but only if your landlord agrees to pay for a share of the costs.