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Through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, utility assistance is available to individuals and families who cannot afford it otherwise. There are many health risks associated with improper indoor temperatures, such as hypothermia and hyperthermia. Seniors and children have a higher chance of health risks due to improper temperatures. Improper temperature regulation due to faulty appliances can even pose safety risks like fire hazards. The help provided by LIHEAP gives low-income individuals with financial assistance to put toward their heating and cooling bills.
In addition to offering help with the electric bill, LIHEAP also provide emergency services in the case of a power shutoff. In some states, LIHEAP works hand in hand with the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). This program helps families in need get energy-efficient appliances in their home that will help them reduce their energy bills. For more information about the benefits of LIHEAP, review the sections below.
What is the difference between LIHEAP and the Weatherization Assistance Program?
While many may refer to the LIHEAP and weatherization programs as one entity, they are in fact different. The LIHEAP offers low-income families financial help with utilities, which means households or utility providers will receive a monthly benefit is toward the recipient’s utility bills.
The WAP, on the other hand, does not assist financially with the cost of utilities. Their program has a more long-term structure as it helps families pay for energy-efficient home products and appliances. It can also pay for repairs that will improve the HVAC systems in the home. Over time, this will greatly reduce the cost of utility bills. While many states combine both programs, it is important to understand that they provide different services.
Benefits Available through LIHEAP
There are three main factors that the program considers to determine LIHEAP benefits: income, household size and energy need. These, along with other factors such as fuel type and dwelling type, play a role in deciding what benefits the states will provide. In addition, climate is a big determinant in benefits. For instance, Floridians do not receive specific heating benefits, as the weather is typically warm all year long. In Alaska, cooling is not provided. However, some states like Hawaii and Texas offer both cooling and heating services to families in the LIHEAP. There are two main types of assistance paying utility bills: regular and emergency.
As it relates cooling and heating assistance, every state provides at least one type of benefit. However, the program only pays for the primary utility bill in the home. As such, while a household may have gas and electric bills, LIHEAP may only help paying the electric bill if it is the highest energy cost. When it comes to the disbursement of funds, it varies by recipients.
Some beneficiaries do not receive the funds directly. The program will pay a lump sum to the provider for that household, or provide several smaller payments. Some states will only provide recipients with direct funds to purchase cooling devices during high temperature seasons. Montana, for instance, allows applicants to purchase fans or temporarily relocate to living facilities with appropriate cooling systems during high temperatures.
Beneficiaries in Vermont can receive up to a certain amount of gallons of propane, oil, kerosene and other appliances for heating. In other cases such as a beneficiary living in a rental property, LIHEAP may give the LIHEAP utility assistance funds to the beneficiary and make them responsible for making timely payments.
LIHEAP heating help benefit levels vary greatly. Based on factors such as household size, income and energy need, each household may receive a different amount. There are minimum and maximum amounts for each type of service. It can range anywhere from $1 to $5,400 across all states and services.
Texas currently stands one of the states with the highest heating and cooling maximum amounts at $5,400. Most states provide up to several hundred dollars. Download our comprehensive guide for more information about benefits in each state.
Moreover, eligibility for the Weatherization Assistance Program in some states is automatic once you qualify for LIHEAP. As such, beneficiaries may be able to make improvements and repairs in their household. This includes adding insulation, fixing leaky areas and adding energy-efficient appliances.
LIHEAP crisis assistance is the second type of benefit within the program. Generally, this service caters to low-income families who are at risk of having their utilities shut off or were already disconnected. However, each state defines the parameters of what warrants emergency benefits. In some states, a state-declared natural disaster warrants emergency services for households within the state.
In Pennsylvania, emergencies include having broken heating equipment and having less than a 15-day supply of fuel. In addition to setting limitations on what constitutes an emergency situation, states can also create priorities based on population for emergency electric assistance. For instance, emergency services in the District of Colombia are limited to the following individuals: seniors, residents who do not have home heating oil and residents with a disconnection notice.
To receive this emergency energy assistance, applicants must provide proof of the utility service termination and income. The application goes through an expedited process to ensure that recipients get help as quickly as possible. The program then offers emergency help with electric bill or the utility bill in question.
Download our comprehensive guide for more information about how the regular and emergency benefits work in every state.
How long can someone receive LIHEAP benefits?
When it comes to regular and emergency utility assistance, the states limit the amount of times a household can qualify for this service. In an effort to ensure that funds are distributed fairly, a household is generally only eligible to receive each type of service once a year. These limits vary between states, so applicants must also keep in mind the time periods during which benefits are available. Each state has its own application filing dates for each type of service. The LIHEAP office in Montana, for instance, permits residents to complete the application process for LIHEAP crisis assistance year round. However, for standard heating assistance, it is only available between October 1 and April 30. Some states like Arizona and Florida may be able to offer help with utility bills year-round, depending on available funds.