Help with Heating Bills


In the coldest months of winter and the hottest months of summer, energy bills can go through the roof. With high energy costs, the hardest hit are often low income households, particularly in this weak economy. This frequently means tough choices between which bills to pay. For the elderly, the choice is often between medication and heating.

The federal government has a program to help low income households manage high energy costs. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides funding to home energy assistance programs for low income households. This federal block grant program is put into action primarily at the state level.

The goal of LIHEAP is to help low income households who pay a high proportion of their income towards energy costs. It encourages states to prioritize those who receive assistance by those who are most burdened with energy costs and those who have a vulnerable person in the household. Vulnerable people include young children, people with disabilities and the elderly. These people are at the highest risk of injury from excessive heat and excessive cold.

Types of Assistance
The federal LIHEAP program provides for several different types of assistance through state LIHEAP programs. These include money toward energy bills, emergency help if energy services are turned off or will be, help with weatherization to improve energy efficiency, money for the repair and replacement of utility equipment and other related services. The bulk of the assistance goes towards households who need help heating their home in the winter.

Who Qualifies
Because LIHEAP assistance is administered mostly through the states, income guidelines are typically left up to the states and the agencies that allot the funds. Federal law does, however, limit eligibility to households that have incomes less than 150% of the federal poverty level or 60% of the state’s median income, whichever is greater. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 4.6 million households received assistance in 2004. It is estimated, however, that approximately 35 million households have income levels to qualify for assistance.

The gap between the amount of people who receive assistance and those who qualify is primarily a factor of funding and allocation. In the past, the LIHEAP program has not been fully funded. In the fiscal year 2007, the program received $1.98 billion despite a maximum authorization of $5.1 billion per year.

How to Get Assistance
If you qualify for federal LIHEAP assistance, you need to find a local community action agency to apply. The federal government doesn’t handle applications for LIHEAP assistance. In some states, the Salvation Army processes applications. To find information about LIHEAP assistance in your area, contact LIHEAP State Grantees.

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