Rent to high? Learn How Low-Income Families Can Get Help With Utilities

Utilities are an essential part of our lives. We need water for bathing, cleaning, and drinking while electricity allows us to keep our homes comfortable and cook our food, light our way, and power the many devices that keep us entertained and connected with the world at large. In fact, in many cities and counties across the United States, it is illegal for any company to deny customers or renters electricity during extreme weather conditions. For example, in the state of Massachusetts, it is illegal for a utility company to shut off or terminate electrical and water service for any household who has someone who is ill or who cannot afford to pay their bills due to financial hardship. 

Unfortunately, that's not true everywhere and utility companies can, and often will, turn off the electricity and water access should you be late with your payments or accrue too many overdue bills. To make things worse, they will often add excess service fees for both turning off and turning back on your electricity. Other companies will require customers with poor credit scores to put down several hundred dollars as a deposit before they will even turn on their electricity. 

So if you find yourself struggling with paying your utility bill or even opening up a utility account, you're not alone! The good news is that the government and both local and national nonprofit organizations understand the problems low-income families can face when it comes to utility companies. As a result, there are a number of programs specifically designed to help those who need help paying their utilities, get help. The following is a quick look at what every American household should know...

Why the Low Income Energy Assistance Program

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (or LIHEAP) is a federally funded energy bill assistance program that offers life-saving financial assistance for low-income families who struggle with paying for their electricity, gas, and oil bills. And it is life-saving. Studies have shown that high energy bills have led to families going without food to pay their heating bills, becoming homeless, and even suffering fatal injuries when family members susceptible to heat-related or cold-related illnesses cannot pay their high utility bills. 

The LIHEAP helps prevent against these and other disasters by offering users financial assistance in the way of a grant, account credit, or direct payment to eligible households. For example, through this program you might receive a:

  • Cash Grant. Cash grants are designed to help customers pay their regular monthly utility bills. This type of financial assistance will generally occur in the form of posted payments for previous bills made to the utility company or via credits made on the account for future services. Note that these most who receive cash grants receive significant help but won't have the entirety of their bill paid. 
  • Crisis Grant. If you and your household require emergency help paying for heating and similar utility needs, then a crisis grant allows you to streamline the process to get immediate assistance preventing the utility company from shutting off or limiting your energy services.

Who is Eligible for LIHEAP

All low-income American citizens are eligible to receive assistance through LIHEAP. However, unique conditions may apply to some cities, counties, and states and households must apply via their local community action agency or state government. Both renters and homeowners responsible for their home utility bills may apply so long as the household meets the low income or fixed standards. 

However, note that while as of this writing, an estimated only 20% of eligible households have applied for assistance, this program does have budget limits and funds are allocated on both a first-come first-apply service and, where needed, by at-risk priority -- meaning that those families with the highest home energy needs and most at-risk family members will have priority. You do not need to have a current unpaid bill to apply for assistance nor do you need to show proof of any other type of welfare assistance.

Other Types of Utility Help for Low-Income Households

If you own your own home, then paying for monthly utility costs may not be the only thing you struggle with. For example, a storm, old building materials, or other disasters may be preventing you from safely and efficiently using home heating, cooling, and ventilation equipment. If you can't afford to pay for such repairs, then you may be eligible for special home repair grants that will help you get your home back to the condition it needs to be in. Known officially as Home Weatherization grants, these grants may be used for:

  • Repairs to damaged roofing
  • Mold removal and remediation
  • Septic tank repairs
  • Furnace repairs and even replacement
  • Insulation addition or replacement

Contact Us for More Financial Help

It's no secret that the cost of living is going up while many people experience stagnating wages and salaries. The good news is that help is out there! Contact us to learn more about different financial assistance programs and other key funding ideas.