Having a roof over your family’s head is essential. However, let’s face it –you need more than just the basic necessities. You need heating and cooling, electricity, water, sewage service, and more. These utilities make modern life more comfortable. In some cases, they’re essential to your quality of life and health.
Of course, paying for those utilities can be incredibly hard, particularly if you’ve lost hours at work, or the utility company has raised their rates. Thankfully, there are ways that you can find money to pay down back utility bills and help get yourself back on track.
Options to Help with Utility Bills
In addition to the program we’ll discuss later in this chapter, there are several things you can do to help reduce your utility bills.
•Contact the utility company and ask about forbearance programs or emergency needs programs they may offer.
•Contact your local social services agency to find out if there are supplemental funds or programs that could help you.
•Ask your electric, gas, or oil provider about budget billing programs or solutions for customers on fixed incomes (if applicable).
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)If you’re struggling with heating or cooling cost, or need money to pay down your back power bill, this program could be exactly what you require. While it is not a grant, technically, it does work in a similar way and you won’t find yourself saddled with yet more debt that you cannot afford to pay.•What Does It Do?The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is designed to help families pay for their heating and cooling costs, to keep the lights on if they’re in danger of having the power turned off, and even to make certain home improvements that can lower your utility bills over time.For instance, weatherization improvements, such as sealing doors and windows, and other low-cost home improvements, can be paid for through this program, so long as they directly improve your utility and energy usage. With that being said, note that this program cannot be used to pay for water bills or sewer bills.•Who Is Eligible?In order to qualify for this program, you’ll need to prove that you and your family are on SNAP, SSI, TANF, or welfare. Certain US veterans will also qualify (needs-tested). Note that these are only the broadest federal guidelines. Each state sets its own requirements, and even local governments can set eligibility limits.•Are There Limitations on Fund Usage?The funds from this program can only be used to pay for electricity, and/or heating and cooling costs, as well as specific weatherization improvements. Funds can also be used in cases of an energy crisis to keep your power on if the utility company is set to turn it off.•How Much Is Available in Grants?
There is no set amount available. This is a needs and income-based program, so the amount awarded will differ from family to family.
•What Are the Limitations and Terms?
The only limitations here include the eligibility requirements, which can vary from state to state and even county to county, and the fact that the money can only be used for utility bill payments.
•How Do You Apply for This Grant?
You’ll need to apply for LIHEAP through your local office. If you’re not sure where that office is located, you can use the online locator tool here to find it quickly. Many states have an online application process –if yours does, you can find the application through the LIHEAP Clearinghouse, complete it, and submit it online.
Note that applying and being approved does not necessarily mean that you will see any money, though. Only about 20% of those who are approved for the LIHEAP program receive any funds. Once the annual funding has run out, no more money is available until Congress authorizes the next annual budget.