LIHEAP is a federal program that helps low income people all over America get help with their heating and cooling bills! This program can pay your utility provider on your behalf and reduce the amount you have to pay.
If you are struggling to pay your utility bills, you’re not alone. Those bills can be very expensive, especially during periods of extreme heat or cold. Fortunately, you may be able to get help!
In this article, we’ll explain what LIHEAP is, who is eligible for it, how to apply, and what types of assistance it can provide.
What is LIHEAP?
LIHEAP stands for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It is a federal program that provides funding to states, territories, and tribes to help low income households pay for their energy bills. The program is designed to assist households that have a high energy burden, meaning that their bills take up too much of their income.
Like many low income programs in the United States, this one is a little complicated. The federal government sends money to the states and the states decide how to pass that money onto the people.
States have a lot of authority over this program. Some states have renamed it HEAP or LEAP, so it may not even be called LIHEAP in your area. Your state can also set specific eligibility criteria and other requirements.
How Does LIHEAP Help You?
LIHEAP is designed a little differently in every state but in most states I’ve researched, there are three key components to this program.
- Annual assistance
- Crisis assistance
The heart of the LIHEAP program is an annual grant that can be paid to your utility provider on your behalf. This grant is usually a flat amount that is paid directly to the company. You can usually receive these funds once per year, as long as you apply every year.
LIHEAP is not meant to pay for all of your energy costs for the year, the season, or even the month…. the amount of help that you get will depend on where you live, your income, your energy costs or needs, your family size, and possibly other factors… It is unlikely that you will receive enough to pay your entire heating or cooling bill for the year because LIHEAP is not designed to do that.US Department of Health & Human Services
In my experience, this assistance program usually isn’t enough to pay your entire bill but it can pay a large portion of it. You will be responsible for any money that is still owed after the government pays their portion.
If you receive a shut-off notice because you can’t afford your winter or summer utility bills, you may also be eligible for crisis assistance through LIHEAP. These emergency funds are exclusively for households who have received a shut-off notice or have already been disconnected.
If you receive a shut-off notice, you should contact your utility provider right away and let them know you intend to apply for emergency assistance. If they know you’re trying to get help, they’ll often give you an extension so you have more time to get help before they turn off your utilities.
The weatherization component can help you reduce your future utility bills. I have received this assistance myself and it is lifechanging! This program provided over $18,000 in free home improvements, which reduced our bills from around $650 per month to just $150 per month. It saved us so much money!
I highly recommend the weatherization program to anyone who is eligible, since most low income homes are not very efficient at all.
Unfortunately, the weatherization component isn’t always available. Once again, this is up to state discretion.
LIHEAP grantees can spend a portion of their funds on low-cost energy related repairs for homes, but they are not required to do so.US Department of Health & Human Services
Who is Eligible for LIHEAP?
Every state, territory and tribe that distributes LIHEAP funding can set their own eligibility guidelines as long as those guidelines fit within the minimum and maximum criteria set by the federal government. That means that some states offer assistance to more people than others.
The federal LIHEAP requirements are established by law and published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Households can qualify automatically if they participate in other low income programs. Even if you don’t participate in any other programs, you may be eligible if you meet certain income and asset limits.
To find out if you are eligible for LIHEAP, you can visit your state’s website or contact your local office. You will likely need to provide documentation such as income statements, energy bills, and proof of residency or citizenship.
Households that participate in certain means-tested programs can be considered “categorically” or “automatically” eligible for LIHEAP. This is an option in the law, so some states use this loophole to cut down on paperwork.
You may be automatically eligible for LIHEAP if you participate in one of these programs:
According to the Department of Health & Human Services, about 20 states had implemented the categorical eligibility option as of 2013. In those states, some do not ask categorically eligible people to provide proof of income.
The federal government has given states broad discretionary power in setting income limits for this program. States can choose to set their limits as low as 110% of the Federal Poverty Level or as a high as 150%. They can also choose to use 60% of the Area Median Income as a threshold instead.
Some states choose to use deductions for medical expenses and other necessary expenses to reduce the overall countable income. It just really depends on what state you live in.
States must set LIHEAP income eligibility standards within the maximums and minimums established by law. The LIHEAP statute says that to be eligible, a household must have an income that does not exceed the greater of 150% of the Federal Poverty Guideline or 60% of the state median income level…. In addition, income eligibility levels may not be set below 110% of the FPG.US Department of Health & Human Services
This means that as long as your income is 110% or less of the Federal Poverty Guideline, you should be eligible for LIHEAP no matter where you live. As of 2023, that figure is as follows:
|People in Household||110% of FPG|
|for each additional person, add||$5,654|
In Alaska and Hawaii, the rates are even higher because the federal government has established a higher poverty threshold for those states due to a higher cost-of-living in those remote areas.
As DHHS indicated, states can choose to implement even higher income guidelines than these.
Although the federal government does not require asset testing for LIHEAP, some states use asset tests anyway. In those states, the asset limit ranges from $2,000 to $20,000.
In addition to income eligibility, LIHEAP may have other eligibility requirements, such as citizenship or residency status. Some states also prioritize certain households for assistance, such as those with elderly or disabled members or those with young children.
How to Apply for LIHEAP
The application process varies by state but typically involves a detailed application that will ask you about your household size, household income, energy consumption, and other data.
You will usually be expected to provide documentation to prove your eligibility. When I applied for LIHEAP in 2016, I was expected to provide the names, Social Security Numbers, and income information for every member of my household. I was also expected to provide proof of address, proof of energy expenses, and other data. I couldn’t fill out the application online because it required an in-person interview.
Although the interviewer made it very clear what I was expected to provide in this interview, they were genuinely shocked when I showed up with all the paperwork in tow. The person I was working with confided that they had drawn straws to figure out who would end up processing my application because I had 13 people in my household and they did not expect me to have all the paperwork together.
I strongly recommend bringing all of your paperwork to your first appointment, including:
- Names and ages of all household members
- Social Security Numbers for all household members
- Proof of income for all household members
- Photo IDs for all adults in the household
- Current lease or mortgage statement
- Current utility bills
The more prepared you are for the appointment, the faster it will go and the easier it will be to get help.
Typically, LIHEAP is administered by Community Action Councils. These organizations have been tasked with alleviating poverty throughout the United States. You can reach out to your local community action agency for more information.
In the unlikely event that your community action agency doesn’t know how to help you, you can also reach out to your utility company, state LIHEAP organization, or 211 for more assistance and direction.
What to Expect After Applying
When I applied for LIHEAP, approval was immediate. It happened while I was sitting in the office! I didn’t have to wait at all to find out that I was eligible for a $1,000 grant toward my utility bills. Of course, this is because I lived in a state where you had to apply in person for this assistance.
In some states, it can take several weeks to receive a response from your state’s LIHEAP office. The wait depends on the volume of applications received and the state’s processing times. If you are approved for LIHEAP, you will receive a notice outlining the amount of assistance you will receive and any other conditions or requirements. This notice will usually arrive by mail, although in some cases they may email or call you.
The funds will not be sent directly to you. Any money that you are approved to receive will be sent directly to your utility provider to offset the costs of your bill.
Unfortunately, some people who apply for LIHEAP will not receive money even though they are eligible. That’s because the program only receives so much funding every year and it’s distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. That means that if you apply late in the season all the funds may have already been used!
It’s important to apply right away if you know you are eligible for this program. After all, if you wait, you may lose the chance!
Other Ways to Get Help
Utility bills can be expensive. I know – after all, I once received a $3,364 power bill!
If you need help with your utilities, LIHEAP isn’t your only option. You may be able to get help from other churches, charities and nonprofits. In some cases, even your utility provider can help you get freebies and discounts on your utilities!
You can find additional utility bill assistance elsewhere on our website.
In conclusion, LIHEAP is an important program that provides critical assistance to low income households struggling to pay their energy bills. Through financial assistance, weatherization, and energy-related home repairs, LIHEAP can help eligible households stay safe and comfortable in their homes while also reducing their energy burden. This program has helped millions of households across the United States, providing a lifeline during times of economic hardship or other challenges.
If you or someone you know is struggling to pay energy bills, it’s worth exploring whether you may be eligible for LIHEAP assistance. While the application process may take some time and require some documentation, the potential benefits can be significant. Additionally, many states have additional programs or resources available to help households with their energy bills, so it’s worth checking with your state’s LIHEAP office or local utility company to learn about all of your options.
Overall, LIHEAP is a vital program that helps ensure that low income households have access to essential energy services. By providing assistance to those who need it most, this program helps reduce energy poverty and promotes greater economic stability and security for all.
FAQs about LIHEAP
We get hundreds of questions about LIHEAP every year, so let’s answer some of the most common ones we’ve heard.
When does LIHEAP start in 2023?
Each state sets their own LIHEAP start times, but most states process applications between October and March every year. The program should be available until late spring 2023, and then reopen again in October 2023 for the following winter.
Does LIHEAP pay every month?
Typically, LIHEAP pays once per year instead of every month. However, each state has permission to administer the program a little differently so it may vary depending on where you live.
How much does LIHEAP pay?
Some states offer only a few hundred dollars, while others offer thousands. For example, the crisis maximum for Delaware is $10,000 according to the LIHEAP Clearinghouse. The LIHEAP amount you receive will depend on your location, household size, household income and bill amount.
Wednesday 3rd of May 2023
Everytime I fill out the paperwork for the utilities I must be doing something wrong cause I NEVER get ANY kind of response back please help. I am NOT good with getting help just like trying to get help for rent before my landlord tries to kick me out. After I have been VERY VERY open with him that I just moved to the area and it takes time for paperwork and he don't care. Please help I don't want to loose what I have worked this hard for this far 😓😓😓😓😓😓😓😓😓😓
Thursday 4th of May 2023
Hi Beth. Have you spoken to anyone at your local Community Action Agency? They may be able to help with the application.