A lot of risks, both health and safety-wise, can arise from unsafe heating and cooling practices. Since low-income earners often find it challenging to keep up with standard energy usage practices, the government created an assistance program in 1981 to help these people. In this article, I’ve provided all you need to know about energy assistance for the low income.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, short for LIHEAP, is a program funded by the federal government for the purpose of assisting low-income households that spend a significant portion of their income on energy needs. It helps with heating and cooling energy costs, bill payment, energy crisis, weatherization, and home repairs related to energy.
How Does LIHEAP Work?
The LIHEAP program is divided into various sections or departments to accomplish different goals. These sections include:
- The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) which provides a one-time payment for energy bills to help eligible households
- The Energy Crisis Intervention Program (ECIP) which assists eligible low-income households in crisis situations, such as when energy is shut off, or there are threats of energy getting shut off
- The LIHEAP Weatherization which provides energy efficiency upgrades to low-income households for free, to help them reduce their monthly energy bills while enhancing the health and safety of the household occupants at the same time
- Education on standard energy efficiency practises and guidance on how to properly use and maintain the installed weatherization measures
- Counselling on the energy budget
HEAP and ECIP are available at specific times of the year. HEAP is available from November through March, and ECIP is available during winter from November through May and during summer from June through October.
The amount you also receive differs according to the program type. For HEAP the amount of assistance you receive depends on the amount of money required to clear out your bills with your energy provider. For ECIP you can get a maximum of $800 during the winter periods and a maximum of $600 during the summer periods.
Who Qualifies for LIHEAP?
To be eligible for LIHEAP, you must be a low-income earner that needs financial assistance for home energy bills. Apart from the low-income, other factors like household size, available resources and responsibility for payment of home energy costs also determine eligibility. Ideally, you must meet the following requirements to be eligible for LIHEAP:
- Be in charge of paying home energy bills
- Be a citizen or legal immigrant of the United States
- Have no more than $3000 in bank accounts, investments, and retirement accounts
- Fulfil certain income requirements that differ according to fuel type and family size. You can find a tool to help you determine your household’s income eligibility here.
There’s also a possibility that you automatically qualify for LIHEAP if you or a member of your household receives benefits from specific programs like SNAP, SSI, TANF or particular needs-tested Veterans benefits. Note that the eligibility requirements for LIHEAP may differ by state, so it’s important to find out these specific requirements before applying.
In addition to being eligible for LIHEAP, your utility company must also be a participant of this program. So, ensure you contact your utility company to confirm participation.
How to Apply for LIHEAP in My State Online
There are different ways to apply to LIHEAP – in person, by mail or online. The quickest and easiest way is obviously an online application. However, not all states allow for online application. Some may make their application available online for download, but not for online submissions. You can find a list of states that have their LIHEAP applications available online here.
For states that allow application submissions through an online portal, you typically have first to create an account with the state’s benefits program. For instance, if you’re applying for LIHEAP in Vermont, you will have to first open an account with myBenefits, which is a platform operated by the Department for Children and Families Agency of Human Services.
After creating an online account with the required program, you can then begin your LIHEAP application process online. You may be required to provide the following information:
- Basic information including your name, sex, marital status, and address (physical and mailing), and perhaps those of all your household members
- Social Security Number for yourself and members of your household if required
- Work history
- Disabilities, if any
- Income sources including the amount you received on your most recent paychecks, how regularly you work, and the contact information of your employer
- The amount of money you pay in rent and bills, to ascertain your financial need
The level of detail required often varies according to state. Some may ask for more general information, and some may require a further breakdown of income sources.
After completing and submitting your application online, you may be required to provide additional information for verification by mail or in person, depending on your state.
Once all has been done successfully, it may take a while to review your application, usually between 30 – 45 days. If approved, you will be notified either online or by mail with details on your assistance amount.
Where Else Can I Get Help if I Don’t Qualify for LIHEAP?
If you don’t qualify for LIHEAP due to your income being above the limit or for any other reason. In that case, you may still be able to get assistance with your energy bills from programs such as the U.S Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance, Ratepayer-Funded Programs, private fuel funds, or State and Local funds.
You can contact nonprofits, as well as your social services agency for assistance as they may have funds available. You can also contact your energy utility company to learn about any programs or new payment options that may suit you.
Will LIHEAP Help if You Have Been Affected by COVID-19?
The LIHEAP aims to provide financial assistance to households who are finding it difficult to pay their home heating and cooling bills, this includes households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government anticipates that a larger population of people will need energy assistance than normal and will try to provide as much assistance as possible to those acutely affected by the pandemic.
LIHEAP is the most common energy assistance program for low-income earners in the U.S and continues to assist even people affected by COVID-19. Before applying for this program, ensure that you meet the requirements in terms of income, household type, and fuel type.
Once you’re sure you qualify, you can go ahead to make your application online if your state allows it. If not, you can check other available means of application. Ensure you fill in all necessary information accurately to avoid issues with your application. You will be notified of the outcome of your application online or through the mail.