Energy Assistance Program for People with Low Income


Families who don’t make very much money have a hard time paying their heating and cooling bills. Fortunately, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is available to help many of them.

What is it?

LIHEAP is a federally-funded program that helps those whose income seriously restricts their ability to pay their home’s heating and cooling bills. Elderly people, the disabled, and low-income families are all eligible to receive assistance from the program.

Roughly five million American households receive assistance from LIHEAP annually. Most of them are cripplingly poor, with about 65% of them earning under $8,000 over the course of an entire year.



How does LIHEAP help?

There are several ways that enrolled households can benefit. Many receive subsidies to cover some or all of their bills. LIHEAP may also assist in other situations. Energy-related repairs and improvements (such as installing new insulation or energy-efficient windows) are sometimes provided.

In times of “energy crisis,” low-income households are not left to fend for themselves either. If a heating/cooling system breaks, the weather gets particularly hot or cold, or your utility company threatens to shut down your service, LIHEAP can be helpful.

Do you qualify?

In order qualify for assistance, the combined household income can be no greater than 1.5 times the federal poverty level. Other requirements may apply, some of which will be discussed below. Your state has an LIHEAP office that will always have the most up-to-date and accurate information, however.



How utility assistance programs work

Governments at both the state and federal levels across the nation fund utility assistance programs. Different programs have different benefits and a variety of extra functions, but all serve this basic purpose: to help low-income citizens pay their heating and cooling bills.

There are programs that offer primarily energy-related home repairs and improvements. Others provide services for heating emergencies in winter.

Just as they differ in their benefits, they also differ in their eligibility restrictions. Most are based on the federally-defined “poverty level.” Each year, the federal government analyzes mountains of data and determines what it means to be in poverty. That is the primary reference point for agencies when it comes to deciding who gets assistance.

To find out what a particular agency can offer you, it’s best to simply call around and ask.

More information about LIHEAP

The Home Energy Assistance Program and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program work together, using federal funding, to give help to residents with low incomes. A household may receive as much as two thousand dollars in financial assistance from LIHEAP. On top of those provisions, necessary home heating repairs and cooling assistance for those with medical needs can be covered.

The application period for LIHEAP assistance is limited. Generally it is open from mid-Autumn through mid-Spring. Anyone applying for heating or cooling assistance must file in that same period of time. You don’t want to miss out on benefits because you didn’t apply on time.

Other points

A household that is not responsible for its own heating and cooling costs is ineligible for assistance. If you pay utilities, however, you can receive help. It makes no difference whether those payments go directly to the provider or are made to your landlord as rent. Based on these requirements, residents of public housing are much less likely to qualify.

The way that assistance is provided varies based on a number of factors. For instance, payment can be forwarded directly to the provider if you heat using electricity. For propane users, on the other hand, a two-party check is provided. It must be endorsed by the recipient and passed along to the propane supplier. Other methods may be used for other energy sources.

If your household receives a credit for cooling based on medical need, the fixed benefit amount is $200 (usually delivered as a check). Otherwise, the amount of the benefit varies based on income, household size and other factors.



Applying for LIHEAP

Despite the fact that LIHEAP is federally-funded, the process of applying for benefits happens at the local level. It’s likely you will have to make more than one visit. The application and its subsequent follow-up will occur at the local office. It is mandatory that you complete the application in person, unless you are at least sixty years old, disabled, or serviced by an office that accepts mail-in applications.

New applicants are required to provide specific documentation when they apply. Some of the required information includes:

– Proof of income for each specific adult member of the household
– Social security numbers for all members of the household
– Evidence of residency (such as a lease agreement)
– A copy of your most up-to-date utility bill

If you have questions and cannot get in touch with your local office, try calling 2-1-1. In most states, that number will connect you to a non-emergency line for community and human health services. They can supply more information.


Recipients of prior-year assistance need not apply through the same avenue as their original application.  As long as you live in the same residence as you did when you first applied, you should receive an invitation to apply for recertification. You will still need to visit the office in person, but you will only have to provide:

– Proof of the household’s combined income
– A recent or current utility bill
– Documentation proving the addition or subtraction of any members of the household.

The streamlined process will continue to apply as long as you do not move and there are no lapses in assistance. If any of these changes occur, you’ll be treated as a new applicant.

In case of emergencies

The aforementioned HEA program may be able to provide you with help if circumstances become dire. Hundreds of dollars can be given to families in times of energy crisis.

Examples of such benefits include:

– Payment of fuel delivery (no more than $450)
– Restoration of a cut-off energy service (no more than $100)
– Repair of a heater (no more than $1,000)

For those who already have low incomes, these benefits (available each year) can be a real lifesaver. To be eligible you must pay directly for heating costs. To ask questions about specific benefits or to apply, contact a local assistance office.