When money is tight it can be difficult to pay your utility bill. Utilities bills can be especially high in the winter or summer months when you need to pay extra money to heat or cool your home. If you’re having trouble paying your utility bill, you are not alone. Nearly 4.8 million American households couldn’t pay an energy bill last year.
So if you’re one of the millions of people having trouble paying your utility bills what can you do?
The good news is there is a government program that is designed to help people lower their utility bills. It’s called the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). In this article we will share information about what this program can help you pay for, how to figure out the amount of money you can get, who’s eligible for the program, and how to actually get the assistance. Before we dive in though, it’s important to clarify two things upfront.
First, LIHEAP grants money to grantees, which are either state or local organizations, who then give this money to the residents in their city, county or region to help these residents manage their utility bills. An individual gets the money from the local or state organization, NOT the low income home energy assistance program itself.
Second, this is a general overview of the program. These programs definitely vary by region and by state. We’ve provided some helpful links that allow you to look up the specific information for your state at the end of the article.
WHAT LIHEAP FUNDS CAN PAY FOR
Let’s start with what bills this program can help you pay. LIHEAP funds can support you in paying your heating or cooling bills and keeping the lights on. It can also provide emergency support in cases of energy crises, such as utility shutoffs, and it can support low-cost home improvements that make your home more energy efficient (also known as weatherization) and, as a result, lower your utility bills.
These funds may also be used to help fix broken or inefficient furnaces or air conditioners, though it’s worth checking to see if the organization administering the funds in your area provides this sort of help.
HOW MUCH MONEY YOU WILL GET
The Home Energy Assistance program varies by region and state but typically it will only cover part of your energy bill. For example, let’s say your energy bill was high because you were heating your home in the winter. If you heat with gas, you might get help with your gas bill but not your electric bill. The largest support, in dollars, goes to those households that have the highest home energy costs, taking into account income and family size.
WHO QUALIFIES FOR LIHEAP
People are eligible for this program based on household income and the size of their household. Generally you need to show that you have income that is near or below the poverty line. The income limit will vary depending on where you live but here is a sample of the current income limits in the state of California. You can learn more about income limits in your state through the links at the end of the article.
Renters can qualify for this benefit. Whether you pay for your energy costs directly or indirectly through your rent, you are eligible for LIHEAP funds if you otherwise qualify.
Finally, you should know that some states automatically qualify households for this program if they receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income, or certain types of veteran’s benefits. Again, use the links below to contact your local office to see if you have automatically qualified and if you still need to fill out an application for the program.
HOW TO GET THIS BENEFIT
To get this benefit you need to contact your local LIHEAP program. The Department of Health and Human Services has created a handy map and you can click on your area to see the organizations that provide this assistance near you.
Poverty Guidelines by State for LIHEAP (Note: Check your state website for actual limits)