What is LIHEAP?
LIHEAP, or the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, is a federal program that aims to assist low-income households in meeting their immediate home energy needs. This program was established in 1981 and has been providing each of the 50 states and over 150 Native American tribes and tribal organizations with yearly grants. These grants are used to manage local home energy assistance programs for low-income households. The federal government has minimal requirements for the program. Instead, most of the important decisions about how the program is run are decided by the granting organization, including states, Native American tribes and tribal organizations or territories that receive federal funding.
Federal funds for LIHEAP are used to help families manage the cost that comes from home energy bills, energy crises and weatherization and energy-related minor home repairs. This program can help families can afford to stay warm during the winter and cool for the summer. This can help to reduce the health and safety risks that many Americans face due to unreliable heating and cooling of their households. When a recipient of federal funds wants to apply for LIHEAP, they must make certain assurances about how they will operate the program. Some of the assurances include:
- The types of energy assistance a grantee will provide.
- Who the grantee will serve with the LIHEAP funds.
- How the LIHEAP utility assistance will be administered.
How can LIHEAP funds be used?
Grantees of LIHEAP utility assistance funds must meet certain guidelines on how they can utilize their funds. Individual grantees can decide how they want to manage the program, but they must make and meet assurances on how their program will operate. In fact, there are a variety of assurances that govern how a grantee operates at a state, tribe or territorial level. Some common assurances that must be fulfilled include:
- Funds must be used to assist households in affording their home energy costs by making payments for heating and cooling expenses.
- Each state provides heating assistance to households, but only a select few provide cooling assistance.
- States are required to set aside funds to assist when households go through an energy crisis.
- An energy crisis can be defined as “weather-related and supply shortage emergencies and other household energy-related emergencies”.
- Funds can be used to pay for low-cost weatherization projects.
- Weatherization is when renovations are made to protect a building and its interior from the elements. In many cases, weatherization also makes a building more energy-efficient.
- LIHEAP funds may be used to assist households in reducing their need for energy assistance.
Understanding Requirements for LIHEAP Benefits
In order to be eligible to receive benefits, at least one member of the household must be a U.S. citizen or qualified, lawful noncitizen. Applicants must meet the established LIHEAP income guidelines. Income is measured by household as opposed to family. A household is defined as an individual or a group of people living together as one economic unit who share one energy bill. In general, a household must be at 150% of the poverty level or lower to be eligible for this utility assistance program. The only exception is for states which require a household income to be less than 60% of the state’s median income, where 60% of the state’s median income is a lower number than 150% of the FPL.
Arkansas, Connecticut, Missouri, Montana, and Oklahoma have asset limits. Applicants cannot have liquid resources valued more than that amount, and limits are different in each state. Assets can include bank accounts, cash, certificates of deposit, cryptocurrency, and investments.
In addition to meeting the standard eligibility requirements, certain circumstances call for categorical eligibility. Categorical eligibility is offered to households who have at least one member who receives assistance from certain federal programs. These programs include:
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
- Supplemental Security Income
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Also commonly known as Food Stamps.
- Certain Veteran Benefits programs (depending on the household’s energy needs).
Benefits are usually a one-time payment, but some areas may make monthly payments for a limited time. The program is not designed to pay utilities throughout the year or a season.
How to Apply for LIHEAP Energy Assistance
In order to submit a LIHEAP application, you must contact your local state or tribal LIHEAP office. Each state runs their own program, so applicants must apply directly with their local offices. To get an application and apply for this utility assistance program, you must do the following:
2. Find the contact information for the agency located in your county.
3. Call the agency and speak to a caseworker about setting up an appointment with them.
4. During your appointment, an employee will be able to help you complete your application.
5. The local agency will then determine whether or not you are eligible.
6. If you have been deemed eligible, the LIHEAP office will make payments directly to the energy companies.
Note: Local agencies usually receive a high volume of calls for assistance, so you may experience some wait times when calling. Remain patient and continue to call until you receive assistance on your application.
How Much Benefits Does LIHEAP Provide?
Since state governments have the authority on how they want to use their energy assistance funds, the amount eligible recipients can receive from LIHEAP varies depending on the state. Each state establishes a minimum and maximum benefit amount for heating, cooling and energy crises. These ranges vary drastically in each state. For example, Texas has the lowest minimum heating and cooling LIHEAP benefit amounts at just $1. However, they also boast some of the highest maximum heating and cooling benefits in the country, at over $5,000.
Certain states with colder temperatures do not offer assistance for cooling costs at all. Others will only offer cooling assistance during periods of sustained high temperatures. Montana, for example, will provide cooling assistance in periods of warmer temperatures, but they limit their assistance to specific purchases. Beneficiaries will only be able to use cooling assistance for limited purchases such as for fans or a hotel room with an air conditioner. In Vermont, LIHEAP provides beneficiaries with oil, kerosene, propane, firewood, coal and pellets for their heating assistance.
Note: To get the most accurate estimate for benefits, contact your local LIHEAP office.
How long do LIHEAP benefits last?
Generally, you can receive benefits for as long as you meet the eligibility requirements and fall within the established LIHEAP income guidelines. Beneficiaries can receive assistance as long as they have not reached the maximum benefit amount. Unfortunately, funds for LIHEAP are limited and some states and territories can run out before eligible individuals can receive their financial aid. Contact your local LIHEAP office for more specific information about the benefits for your state or territory.