If you need help covering your heating or cooling fuel costs, you should check into the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
As the name implies, applicants must meet certain income guidelines to qualify for LIHEAP assistance. Although LIHEAP is federally funded, the federal government does not clearly define income requirements to participate in the program. This means that states have some flexibility in determining income eligibility.
The federal government works with state governments to distribute the aid to people in need. LIHEAP is not meant to cover all of a household’s heating or cooling expenses, and the amount you receive will vary by state.
Review the sections below to learn exactly what to expect from LIHEAP, how to qualify and possible application options in your state.
LIHEAP helps needy or low-income Americans manage high utility bills related to heating or cooling their homes. It is a nationwide financial assistance program that is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
LIHEAP can help with regular utility bills or provide assistance after a weather crisis or other emergency situation interferes with energy connectivity. Other types of LIHEAP assistance include repairing a broken furnace or air conditioner, adding insulation, fixing leaking doors or windows and providing energy use education.
Some states will limit LIHEAP to the household’s main heating source. For example, if you have a gas furnace, the program may only help with your gas bill. Even though you may use space heaters and need electricity to power the furnace blower, LIHEAP’s limited funds usually mean only one utility can be covered.
In addition, many states set a limit on how many times a family can request energy benefits. You may not be able to request LIHEAP assistance if you have already received it in the past year.
Since LIHEAP eligibility requirements vary by state, you should contact your state’s LIHEAP office and find out what is necessary to apply.
If you need help finding your local LIHEAP provider, visit the Administration for Children & Families’ Office of Community Services (OCS) online. Use the interactive map to connect with the agency in charge of LIHEAP in your state.
LIHEAP income guidelines change each year as the Department of Human Health Services adjusts poverty guidelines to meet cost of living increases. These limits will not exceed a certain percentage of the federal poverty level. Income levels are also influenced by the number of people living in the home, and usually the LIHEAP agency will count the income of everyone over age 18.
Some states determine eligibility based on a family’s entire financial status, including assets such as property, savings and retirement accounts. Other states go by gross income alone. (Gross income is a household’s total pay before taxes or other deductions are removed.)
Some states will not provide cooling energy benefits unless the household contains a member in a specific category, such as a child, senior citizen or person with a health condition made worse by heat. If you are enrolled in any of these programs, you are likely automatically eligible for LIHEAP:
In most cases, you must provide copies of your most recent utility bills and a disconnect or eviction notice. In some states, you may not have to provide this proof if you already receive government assistance or meet other categorical eligibility guidelines.
Most states require applicants to meet U.S. citizenship or legal presence requirements and provide proof of state residency. In some states, the entire household must have U.S. citizenship. In other states, it is fine if just one family member meets legal presence requirements.
Many states and local agencies require applicants to submit LIHEAP requests in person. This more common in states where LIHEAP is managed at the local level instead of by the state. Some agencies may allow the head of the household to submit the application alone, while others require each member of the family to be physically present at the time of application.
You may be able to save time by scheduling your LIHEAP appointment ahead of time and completing the application at home. Be sure to bring any documents listed on your application, which may include pay stubs, rental verification and all of your utility bills.
You may receive approval on the spot, or it may take a few days to verify your information. If approved, your utility provider will receive a one-time payment directly from LIHEAP.
Many states are beginning to offer an online method for applying for energy assistance programs. These are more typical in states that operate LIHEAP at the state level instead of at the county level. Your state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will usually operate LIHEAP or will know how to connect you with the provider.
Online application is the easiest process for many people. Simply create an online account if you do not already have one and follow the prompts for energy assistance programs. In most cases, you will be asked to provide the following:
Your approval may take a few days, or you may receive it immediately. Some applicants will be asked to submit additional information or documents by mail or in person.
Some states allow LIHEAP application by mail. This is most common in states managing the program at the county or district level. You can usually find a printable LIHEAP application on your state’s DHHS website. It will require information similar to the items listed above, usually for each member of the household.
Simply complete the form, include any utility bills, pay stubs or tax forms requested, and mail it to the address provided by DHHS. Some states permit applicants to submit their package by email rather than through the U.S. postal service.
If you choose to email your documents, scan them and include them as email attachments. As with other methods of LIHEAP application, you may receive a decision immediately after the agency reviews your forms or you may have to wait several weeks.