For many of the poorest households in the nation, the choice of whether to “heat or eat” is a real one.
Millions of families with low incomes will have a tough time choosing between paying high heating bills and providing food for their families during winter months.
This is particularly acute for low income single mother families who spend a much larger percentage of their income on utility bills than the average family.
When the water, gas, and electric bills start piling up, the financial burden can become really overwhelming.
A 2007 study has shown that for households with children, not being able to pay utility bills is the second leading cause of homelessness, behind domestic violence.1
What is LIHEAP?
The federal government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, provides by far the largest source of funding in the nation to help the poor with power bills, most of that going to home heating costs.
In 2015, the government had a block grant amount of $3.4 billion for LIHEAP.2 States, Indian tribes, and territories apply for this grant to assist their low-income residents with meeting home energy costs. Emphasis is placed on helping pay winter fuel bills.
The formula for fund distribution is dependent on the state’s low-income population and weather. Both heating and cooling costs for residential dwellings are included.
The LIHEAP program is offered in every U.S. state, the District of Columbia, 140 Indian Tribes, and five U.S. territories to families with qualifying incomes — including many elderly.
LIHEAP covers just a fraction of the poor families eligible for assistance and is distributed by local officials on the basis of greatest need. In almost all cases, LIHEAP pays only part of the monthly energy bill, and the family pays the rest.
How do I know if I’m qualified for LIHEAP?
To be eligible for a LIHEAP grant, the household income must not exceed the greater of 60% of the median income in the state or 150% of the poverty level AND no less than 110% of the poverty level.
Priority is given to households with the highest needs or home energy costs in relation to income — particularly households with elderly members, disabled members, and households with young children.
In most states, LIHEAP has a priority system in place for:
- Senior & disabled households
- Single parent households with children under the age of 6
- General public
How do I apply for LIHEAP?
If you need help paying bills, you can contact the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) via telephone at 1-866-674-6327 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out where and how to apply for LIHEAP.
Alternatively, you can also contact the state LIHEAP agency in which you reside to get more information about how to apply for this program.
In addition to getting bill paying assistance, you may also receive energy-related home repairs, weatherization, and energy crisis assistance, when funding is available.
- A 2007 study from the University of Colorado Denver
- Administration for Children & Families, LIHEAP Fact Sheet