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The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, better known as LIHEAP, is a federal assistance program that helps families pay the energy costs for their home. The program helps manage costs associated with energy crises, home energy bills, weatherization and energy-related home repairs. The program is only available to families who have a low income and is designed to improve family safety by providing energy assistance to rental properties and family homes.
The LIHEAP program is administered through states, territories, federal lands and tribal organizations. Like many government programs, LIHEAP is funded by the federal government, but the applications and benefits are handled on the state level. However, the intentions of the programs and the LIHEAP income guidelines remain mostly consistent between states. For example, the national guidelines establish program preferences for families that have a member who is elderly, disabled or minor.
What is LIHEAP? The program is designed differently in every state, but common benefits of the energy assistance program include funding designated to help pay heating or cooling bills, energy services for weather crises and home improvements to lower energy costs. LIHEAP’s definition of an energy crisis includes such things as a utility shutdown.
LIHEAP grants may only be used for heating and cooling bills, and the program will not help families pay for water, gas or sewage. The exception to this rule is when water or gas are used toward heating or cooling the house. For example, LIHEAP will help pay the water costs for an evaporative cooler. Additionally, it is unlikely that a family would receive enough LIHEAP funding to cover the full cost of the family utility bills. Funding through the program is typically only available to pay for the main heating or cooling source in the house, and families with the greatest need will receive the greatest benefit amount. For example, a family that uses a gas heater may be able to pay for a portion of the home gas costs but would not be able to apply the benefits to the household electrical bill.
Additionally, LIHEAP benefits can be used for minor home repairs, such as fixing leaky windows or installing new insulation. Like the program’s assistance with bills, LIHEAP will only cover repairs that are related to the energy efficiency of the home. Thus, while LIHEAP grants can be used to fix a broken air conditioner, the funds cannot be used to repair roofing. However, it is necessary that the applicant check his or her LIHEAP location to confirm that grants for broken air conditioners or furnaces are offered. Program offerings may differ by state, and not all states provide funding for inefficient heating or cooling. Those that do provide this funding have a set of eligibility requirements that applicants must satisfy to receive a grant.
Families that are qualified for TANF or SNAP benefits can claim automatic LIHEAP eligibility. However, families that have automatic eligibility for the program must still apply for LIHEAP. The highest benefit amounts are allotted to the families that have the greatest need, and some states have a greater funding balance and can allow greater benefits amounts than other states.
Applying for LIHEAP
The most convenient way to apply for LIHEAP is to contact the nearest LIHEAP office. Each state or U.S. territory has different rules on when and how to apply for LIHEAP. Further, individual LIHEAP offices might have additional services, programs or charities that exist through the LIHEAP location and that can help low-income families afford energy costs. When LIHEAP funding is exhausted, the local office may be able to direct applicants to community resources should the federal program be unable to help.
Many states allow candidates to apply for LIHEAP online, but an online portal will not be available in every district. When an online application is not available, it is possible to apply to your LIHEAP office in person or by mail. Further, the LIHEAP program may be funded by the national government, but the applications are all handled on the state level. The federal government will not accept LIHEAP applications, as it has no jurisdiction on who qualifies based on each state’s eligibility guidelines.
LIHEAP offices exist in many districts and counties. However, if a regional office is not available near you, you may contact the state LIHEAP office for assistance.
LIHEAP is not the only resource that exists to help low-income families manage energy efficiency in the home. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers to help families save on their utility bill by financing energy home improvements. The Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM) program is similar to LIHEAP in that the funding can be used to make repairs or alterations to the home to keep energy costs low in the home. The EEM, however, is a loan instead of a subsidy program. With it, applicants can add as much as 115 percent of the median single family home value to their loan energy package.
The United State Department of Energy also has a Weatherization Assistance Program, which reduces energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of the home. Not only does the program create over 8,000 jobs, but it also provides service to approximately 35,000 households per year. Households in the weatherization program save an average of $283 or more each year. Like LIHEAP, the weatherization program is available in every state and U.S. territory.
Additionally, there are ways to save on heating costs during winter seasons and energy saving tips for summer that families can use to keep their energy costs down. A family can change energy practices, use efficient light bulbs and make small changes around the home that will save money in the long run.