Nothing can make your heart sink faster than getting a utility bill in a different color. Not having enough money to pay utility bills will, unfortunately, result in a shutoff notice, and your services will get cut. Spending cold nights in a dark home because your electricity has been shut off is no fun. If that’s not bad enough, you still have to pay late fees and a re-connection charge. This is on top of any outstanding debt you have with your electricity provider. It’s expensive to be poor.
There are many reasons why someone can’t pay their energy bills. It could be that you lost your job, and your extra funds have run out. Or, you could already be on a tight budget then get hit with an unexpectedly large electricity bill. Some families struggle to pay off high-interest debt and don’t have enough cash left over for utilities.
Whatever your reason, avoiding getting your heating, water, gas, or electricity shut off is a top priority. After all, not having enough heat or no water can put your family’s health at risk. If you avoid the shutoff, then you won’t have to pay for extra fees and reconnect charges.
Thankfully, there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel. You could qualify for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP for short.
LIHEAP government aid helps low-income families that can’t pay their home energy bills. Qualifying for the LIHEAP program can help with heating or cooling your home when you need it most. You may also be able to use LIHEAP assistance to pay for low-cost energy-related repairs to your home.
In this article, you will find out how to apply for and get utility bill assistance for low-income families where you live.
What is the Low Income Energy Assistance Program?
The Low Income Energy Assistance Program is a federal assistance program for households struggling to pay bills. The disaster assistance website says that LIHEAP energy assistance can help with the following:
- paying home energy bills
- weatherizing your home
- coping with an energy crisis
- making energy-related home repairs (e.g., fixing a furnace or repairing the air-con system)
What do you need to know about qualifying for LIHEAP assistance? Priority is given if a large proportion of your income pays energy bills. So, if you are on a low income and have high energy bills, you should qualify for assistance.
Other factors to take into consideration are the type of home you live in, how many live there, and the type of fuel you use. For example, if you use electricity to heat or cool your home, you could get help with your electricity bill, but not your gas bill.
With applying for Low Income Home Energy Assistance, it’s important to remember that each state has different laws. To find out what assistance you can receive locally, you should contact your local LIHEAP office.
How the Low Income Energy Assistance Program Works
The federal LIHEAP program benefits both homeowners and people who rent their homes.
How does the energy assistance program work? Each state receives money from the federal government to provide benefits for low-income households. If you qualify, you will get help to pay some of your bills. This could be for certain months in the year or even just one month. So, you won’t get enough to pay for all of your heating costs.
Because LIHEAP funds are limited, you could be eligible but not receive any assistance. If you find yourself in this situation, your local LIHEAP office can tell you if funds will be available later.
How to Apply for LIHEAP Assistance
If you think you may qualify for assistance to pay your utility bills, you will need to get some documents together. You need to show proof of income, copies of FPL bills, documents showing any other benefits you receive, and your final bill notice.
But let’s say that you get a final notice from your energy supplier. They’ve given you 10-days’ notice to pay up, or they’ll shut off your electricity. However, if you don’t have enough cash to pay the bill, and LIHEAP has no funds left, then what should you do?
Other Assistance Programs to Help Pay Energy Bills
Keeping your lights on, your home warm, and hot food on the table are priorities for you and your family. Being in a situation where you risk getting your water, electricity, or gas shut is very worrying.
If you are struggling to pay bills, what should you do? First, it’s essential to get in touch with your utility company to let them know. Very often, they are willing to work along with you. They usually have several ways to help their customers. One thing they could do is to restructure your billing. Or, they may even offer some free conservation measures. Your utility company should also provide a balanced payment plan. This is a flat monthly rate that avoids seasonal spikes in energy costs.
Your next step should be to contact LIHEAP. However, as we’ve already said, there could be reasons why you can’t get help. One reason could be that they have run out of funds. Or, your earnings could be too high to qualify, and your utility bill is just one of the many bills you are struggling to pay.
What can you do? Let’s look at a few other sources of local state help you might get.
Local Social Services Agency
You should get in touch with your local social services agency to see if they can offer any temporary help. The U.S. Government’s website says that some state assistance programs run in addition to LIHEAP.
For example, your state may have programs to give energy credits to people who’ve fallen on hard times. These grants can be up to $150.
There are many nonprofit organizations and charities in your state that offer free assistance to prevent your lights from going out. Some of these charitable organizations can also give excellent financial advice on paying bills, budgeting, and getting out of debt.
Check Your Status
Depending on your family situation, your provider could be prevented from cutting off your energy supplies. For example, shutting off heating could put an individual’s life at risk. This can apply to seniors, children, sick, or disabled family members.
In these cases, you should get a letter from your doctor saying why shutting off energy could endanger someone’s health or life.
Low Income Energy Assistance: A Takeaway Message
There are many ways to get help with paying energy bills if you’re struggling to make payments. When you get your heating bill sorted, see if you can qualify for local grants to weatherize your home. This will help to make your home more energy-efficient and cut the cost of your energy bill for good.