Al and I are in the process now of getting our Low-Income Heat and Energy Assistance Plan(LIHEAP) renewed. Since we are getting it done right now, I figured it was a good time to talk about this program.
What is LIHEAP?
LIHEAP exists in some form in every state but is usually managed on the county level. The program provides heat and energy assistance for low-income households.
According to the program, a “Household is defined as any individual or group of individuals who are living together as one economic unit for whom residential energy is customarily purchased in common or who make undesignated payments for energy in the form of rent.”
This program provides financial support to low-income households, specifically by reducing their out-of-pocket payments for heat and electricity.
These payments are made directly to your utility provider.
This is another needs-tested program, it is not specifically for people with disabilities, so you can apply for it the moment your household income dips.
You are eligible for LIHEAP if your household income is below the magic number for your household size. Generally, they are looking for households at or under 150% of the poverty level, but if you are even close to that, it doesn’t hurt to double-check.
If you’re not sure what that value is, I’m unsurprised, as it’s slightly different in each state. It’s good to know, so if you’re worried about paying your bills, just check it out and see if you’re eligible.
How does it work?
If you pay separately for your utilities(the usual case), they will generally cover your heating expenses for the winter.
Also, the LIHEAP program will often help with cooling costs if it’s considered medically necessary. If you can get a doctor to fill out their form, they will also give you an additional credit towards your electricity bill in the summer.
If heating and electricity costs aren’t part of your monthly expenses(some landlords bundle those costs into your rent), you may be able to get a slight reduction in your effective rent, if your landlord is willing to work with you and sign some paperwork.
This works by LIHEAP directly paying a portion of your landlord’s utility bill, so that your portion of the rent goes down – your landlord will continue to get paid the same amount every month, but you won’t have to directly give them as much.
LIHEAP payments are made directly to your heat and power providers, so they will need all of your billing information.
You do need to renew your application for LIHEAP every fall(for the new heating season), but if you are eligible for help with cooling costs, that part only needs to be renewed by your doctor every 5 years.
When should I check my eligibility?
If you are struggling to pay your bills, it may be worth examining. There are some numerical values placed, but they are based on two major categories, one is the amount of income and the second is the number of people in the household. Whoever is considered “in the household” has their income included in the assessment.
For example, my partner Al and I are a household of two, and in our home state of New Jersey, our combined gross income needs to be under $36,620/year for eligibility. Was I living alone, I would need to check my individual eligibility($27,170).
The more people in your household, the higher the income eligibility – which is why households with multiple children are slightly more likely to get needs-based benefits. Your household would also include parents living with you – anybody who also benefits from the heating bill being paid.
I highly recommend checking out benefits.gov to explore just what benefits you might be eligible for if you’re struggling.
If you are currently living with somebody but handling finances separately(such as having a housemate), they will need to write a letter explaining your financial arrangements, but you may be separately eligible for these benefits, even if your housemate isn’t. You’ll be applying as a household of one, and paying your half of the utility bill. It may get messy to explain, but it’s possible.
If any member of your household is eligible for SNAP or SSI, your household is eligible for the LIHEAP program – just show them proof that you are on the program.
This is also true if anybody in the household(or the whole household) is on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families(TANF) or certain needs-tested veteran support benefits.
In any of these cases, you just need to reach out to your local LIHEAP program and let them know which program you are on, and you will get at least some financial support once you file the paperwork.
What information do you need to give them?
The paperwork for LIHEAP is relatively straightforward. Because it requires annual renewal, once you have LIHEAP you will receive a renewal form every fall. The initial application is available online based upon your location.
In addition, they need
- identification information- such as social security cards or infant birth certificates
- proof of citizenship or legal residency
- proof of residency(such as a mortgage, deed, section 8 voucher, or landlord-tenant agreement),
- current heat and electricity bills in a household member’s name
and may include a letter from the doctor for the cooling benefit or any additional verifications
My experiences with LIHEAP
Al and I have been using LIHEAP the last few years. With my SSDI income, I am not eligible for LIHEAP as a household of 1, but Al and I are eligible as a household of 2 when he doesn’t have employment or when he was working only a few hours a week. It was easier to prove a low paycheck than no income, which helped the process last year.
Instead of needing to go to a social security office or to a county benefits office, LIHEAP is administered in Monmouth County(where we live) by the Affordable Housing Alliance.
I’ve found them much easier to communicate and work with, and have found their offices less crowded and less desperation-filled than other government offices I have gone to for support.
Each month they send money to my gas company(for the fall, winter, and early spring), which translates to lower bills and sometimes months where I don’t need to pay my gas bill at all! I also get a small allowance towards my electric bill that similarly lowers it.
In June or so, they pay an allowance to my electric company to help reduce the cost of having air conditioning. This year, I got an additional allowance in September as well, I presume because of how many hot days we had going into the fall.
The program also has sent me reminders for pretty much every step of the process as well as statements of how much money I will be credited every month.
For me, it has been the easiest program to work with and hasn’t given me any major problems.
Word to the wise: you want to get your application in as soon as possible after the season starts. It’s January 27th and I still haven’t received my coverage for this year: I called to check today, and they haven’t yet gotten to our October 30th application as they go in date order.
If you are(or suspect you are) eligible, but are having trouble getting yourself to apply, I have created a small online course that provides additional support.
Conclusion: If you aren’t using LIHEAP, see if you are eligible!
The LIHEAP program supports low-income households by paying all or a portion of the electrical and heating bills for eligible households.
Whether you pay your utilities yourself, or they are bundled into the monthly rent, it’s possible to get support from LIHEAP.
Generally, the program supports households at or below 150% of the poverty level, but there are different exceptions and allowances in different programs, so it’s worth investigating what your area’s rules are.
LIHEAP usually pays your utility programs directly, leaving you with lowered monthly expenses.
If a household member is on SNAP, SSI, or TANF, your household is automatically eligible for LIHEAP.
The application generally requires proof of citizenship or legal residency, identification information of each member of the household, proof of residency and current bill in applicant/household member’s name, and proof of income. If you apply for the cooling benefit, you also need a letter from your doctor explaining your medical need.
I’ve found my local LIHEAP program to be the least income-restricted(Al and I definitely are eligible for LIHEAP, but our SNAP eligibility is more dubious), and one of the easier programs to get on and maintain.
If you are worried about keeping up with your utility bills, I’d recommend checking to see if your household is eligible for LIHEAP!