Staying warm in the winter or cool in the summer is a basic human need. Often, when money gets tight, we tend to focus on shelter and food and forget how important utilities are. Or, we simply don’t know where to turn for help, and many suffer in the cold (or without cooling in extreme heat).
However, there is help! The LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) is a grant program that can help keep families safe throughout the year. Each state disburses its funds differently, so it is important to follow the application process for your state. Most programs are based on household income and must be at or below 175% federal poverty level.
Generally, LIHEAP provides a monetary benefit to your main heating (or cooling for those who live in warm states) source. There is an application process that involves submitting proof of income, proof of citizenship, and the utility bills. The benefit is then sent directly to your utility company account. Many states also operate crisis programs, which can help pay off disconnect notices throughout the winter or summer months.
Some states also have PIPP (Percentage of Income Payment Plan) programs or Arrearage Crediting Programs, where the utility bill can be based on the household income, rather than usage; this can really help if you are low income or living on fixed income. Arrearage crediting is a benefit that reduces the portion of past due balances with each monthly payment you make.
It is a good idea to read your utility bills in full for promotions and any programs they may offer. Your local public utilities commission (PUC) offices will also keep on hand how to get help or settle disputes with utility companies.
Ask for help early before the bills pile up! Waiting until you have imminent shut off notices can put you at risk. Some programs have wait times, so apply as soon as you need help (not the day of disconnect!).
By Joyce McCauley-Benner