Government Assistance for Homeowners Struggling with Utility Bills

Formally known as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP has been providing short-term help with utility expenses to underserved and at-risk individuals since 1981. The program provides block grants that flow to local agencies that provide the funds to specific clients in need. LIHEAP grants are awarded to all 50 states, U.S. territories, the District of Columbia, and various tribal organizations.
Nearly 7 million households have received assistance through the LIHEAP program. Many of those receiving assistance are families with young children, seniors and individuals with disabilities, those attempting to transition from welfare to work, and the working poor.
Without the LIHEAP program, many low-income families would be forced to choose between heating and cooling their home and other necessities, including food and life-saving medications. During peak heating and cooling months, it is not unusual for energy bills to account for as much as 30 percent of a family’s monthly income, especially since many low-income families live in substandard housing that is not energy efficient.
Origins of the LIHEAP Program:
The LIHEAP program was originally developed to help individuals struggling with high heating costs. Although initially targeted toward those living in the Northeast, Congress expanded the program in 1984 to include at-risk individuals struggling to keep their home comfortable in both hot and cold weather. The grants are a combination of federal and private funds, and the program itself is based on a successful collaboration between businesses, utility providers, local social service organizations, and the government.
Type of Assistance Provided:
The LIHEAP program provides eligible homeowners with several types of assistance. In addition to helping with immediate utility bills, a portion of the program’s funds goes toward helping homeowners make energy-related home repairs and weatherization enhancements designed to make the home more energy efficient and reduce the need for assistance. Although the majority of the funds for home improvements go directly to homeowners, landlords may qualify for assistance to improve their rental properties provided that they put up a large portion of the funds necessary for the project.
Additional assistance may be available to homeowners depending on the state in which they live. Some states provide emergency assistance for overdue bills so that utilities are not turned off. In some cases, funds may be used to replace outdated air conditioners and furnaces to improve energy efficiency and ensure a comfortable and safe home environment. In the event of a natural disaster, funds may be available to help homeowners turn off utilities or make energy-related repairs to prevent injuries and property damage. Anyone receiving LIHEAP assistance should contact the administering agency in their state for more information about the full range of services available.
Who Qualifies for LIHEAP Assistance?
LIHEAP benefits are available to individuals and families meeting the basic income criteria. A person may be able to qualify for LIHEAP benefits while employed as long as they earn less than the maximum income amount.
Most states also allow individuals to receive LIHEAP benefits while participating in other benefit programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Social Security or Veterans Administration benefits.
Renters are also eligible even if they live in public or subsidized housing. In these cases, the funds may be given in the form of a utility reimbursement to the renter or directly to the landlord in order to reduce the amount of rent charged to the tenant.
LIHEAP eligibility criteria can vary from state to state. Individuals who think that they may qualify for LIHEAP benefits should contact their state’s administering agency to determine if they are eligible.
What Is the Benefit Amount?
The benefit amount given to homeowners under the LIHEAP program varies significantly from state to state and based on individual circumstances. Typically, the benefit amount takes into consideration the size of the household, the amount normally spent on utility bills, and household income. Most states consider the income of all adult wage earners living in the home when determining eligibility.
Contact Information:
Although the federal government does not directly provide LIHEAP funds to the general public, you can contact the National Energy Assistance Referral line by calling 1-866-674-6327 to be put in touch with the administering agency in your area.