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LIHEAP - Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

 

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program logo

This overview topic explains what the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program is, what its benefits are, and how it works. You may read through the topic or jump to specific sections by using the links to sections of this topic below.

Links to Sections of this topic:

                   General Program Description

                           Intended recipients

                           Types of Assistance

                           Coverage

                           Funding Availability

                           Benefits

                   Eligibility Guidelines

                           Countable Income

                           Income Eligibility

                           Categorical Eligibility

                           Additional Eligibility Criteria

                   Effect on other Benefit Programs

                   Locating your local program

                   More Information

 

General Program Description

Intended recipients

LIHEAP is a federal program that helps low income households pay for heating and/or cooling their homes. In particular, LIHEAP seeks to make home energy more affordable for two groups of low income households that have the highest home energy needs:

          vulnerable households which include frail older individuals, individuals with disabilities, and very young children. These households face serious health risks if they do not have adequate heating or cooling in their homes.

          high energy burden households which include those households with the lowest incomes and highest home energy costs. These households face safety risks in trying to heat or cool their homes if they can not pay their heating or cooling fuel bills.

Types of Assistance

Depending on where you live, LIHEAP may offer the following types of help:

          heating or cooling funds (i.e., fuel subsidies) to increase the affordability of home energy;

          energy crisis intervention to assist weather-related and fuel supply shortages and other household energy-related emergencies, such as utility shutoffs; and/or

          low-cost residential weatherization and other energy-related home repairs to safely increase the efficiency of a household's use of home energy, thus lowering home energy bills and making homes more comfortable.

Coverage

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is not intended to cover a household's residential energy costs. LIHEAP is limited to help eligible households in paying their home heating and/or cooling cost. In some cases, such costs include hot water heating, refrigeration, or cooking. It does not include electricity for other uses such as lighting. In many places, you can get help only with your main heating source. For example, if you heat with gas, you might get help with your gas bill but not your electric bill, or you might get help with one bill or the other.

In most states, there is a heating or cooling component and a home energy crisis component, which also may have different program names. A number of states may also offer weatherization services. In addition, there may be other programs operated by your LIHEAP agency, local utility company, or local charity to help pay for your home heating and/or cooling costs.

Funding Availability

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is not an entitlement program, meaning that you are not guaranteed help because you meet certain criteria. Congress provides a specific amount of money each year for LIHEAP.

When the LIHEAP funds are gone, LIHEAP grantees can no longer provide federal help until Congress provides funds for the next Federal Fiscal Year that begins on October 1st of each year. Therefore, it is possible (at the time one applies) that a state will have exhausted its available federal LIHEAP grant monies, and thus be unable to serve additional households even if those households are eligible to receive help.

Benefits

The highest benefits are to go to those eligible low income households that have the highest home energy costs or needs, taking into account family size. The amount of help that you can receive will depend on where you live (each grantee's payment levels are different), your income, your heating or cooling cost, your family size, and possibly other factors.

Because of the way the LIHEAP funds are distributed, some grantees receive more funds than others, and are able to pay higher benefits. It is unlikely that you will receive enough to pay your entire heating or cooling bill for the year, because LIHEAP is not designed to do that.

Eligibility Guidelines

LIHEAP assists eligible low income households in meeting the heating or cooling portion of their residential energy needs. In order to be eligible to receive LIHEAP assistance, a household must be low income and meet any additional eligibility critieria established by the LIHEAP grantee.

The Federal law establishes an income range for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). States may choose to set their household income cutoff anywhere within the range in determining whether a household is income eligible for LIHEAP benefits. States also may establish additional requirements that must be met to qualify for help. Examples include limits on available assets or the presence household members who are elderly, disabled, or 5 years or younger.

Countable Income

Each state considers a household's total income when making a determination of LIHEAP eligibility. Decisions about what will be counted as income under the state's program, as well as the time period used for counting that income, are left to the state.

States generally count household income in one of two ways.

First, net income (household income after taking out certain deductions) may be used. Deductions could include such things as certain types of income, (such as disability income), or certain costs (such as high shelter or medical costs).

Second, gross household income (household income without taking out any deductions may be used. Using gross income is a generally accepted (though not required) practice in many programs, including the LIHEAP program. Total gross income provides a "base" from which to evaluate a potentially income eligible client in the fairest way possible, relative to other potential eligible households.

The receipt of money such as child support payments may count as income. If so, that amount is included in the income total when determining a household's eligibility for LIHEAP benefits.

Income eligibility

The LIHEAP statute establishes 150 percent of the federal poverty level as the maximum income level allowed in determining LIHEAP income eligibility, except where 60 percent of a state's median income is higher. Income eligibility criteria for LIHEAP may not be set lower than 110 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines. The Federal LIHEAP statute does not define "income." Therefore, each LIHEAP grantee is responsible for defining income, and will identify the items or sources of funds that are to be counted as income.

LIHEAP grantees can set the household income cutoff at any figure between 110 percent of the poverty level and the greater of 150 percent of the poverty level or 60 percent of state median income. Usually 60 percent of state median income is higher than 150 percent of the poverty levels. Both the poverty levels and state median incomes are adjusted by the number of persons living in a household that is applying for assistance

Some LIHEAP grantees use "gross" income instead of "net" income (income after certain deductions) in determining income eligibility for LIHEAP. As part of gross income, a number of LIHEAP grantees count the receipt of money such as child support payments as income. That amount would then be included in the gross income total when determining a household's income eligibility for LIHEAP benefits. Using gross income is a generally accepted (though not a required) practice in many programs, including the LIHEAP program. Total gross income provides a "base" from which to evaluate a potentially eligible household in the fairest way possible, relative to other potential eligible households.

The federal government issues the poverty levels as the HHS Poverty Guidelines and state median income as State Median Income Estimates. Both the HHS Poverty Guidelines and State Median Incomes are published each year in the Federal Register.

Categorical Eligibility

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) grantees have the option to automatically qualify any household that receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Food Stamps, or certain needs-tested Veterans benefits. However, they are not required to do so. Check with your local LIHEAP office (see the Locating your local program section below) to determine if you qualify.

Additional Eligibility Criteria

LIHEAP grantees have the flexibility of serving only those low income households that meet additional LIHEAP eligibility criteria, such as passing an assets test, living in nonsubsidized housing; having a household member who is elderly, disabled, or a young child; or receipt of a utility disconnection notice.

Effect on other Benefit Programs

The amount of any LIHEAP payments or allowances provided directly to, or indirectly for the benefit of, an eligible household will not be considered income or resources of such household (or any member thereof) for any purpose under any Federal or State law, including any law relating to taxation, food stamps, public assistance, or welfare programs.

Locating your local program

The program may or may not be called "LIHEAP" or Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in your state. In a number of states, it is called HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program). Other states use other variations of the federal program name or a completely different name.

To find the name of your state's energy assistance program, go to the directory of state LIHEAP agencies in the More Information section below.

Your LIHEAP grantee also may be able to direct you to other community resources for which you might qualify for help with your home energy bills. If you are a tribal member, but your tribe or tribal organization is not on the list, it means that you should apply to the state program for help.

More Information:

The web page below provides links to the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of State, Indian Tribal, and Insular Area LIHEAP Coordinators. Another web page with links to the Division of Energy Assistance provides the names, e-mail addresses, and telephone numbers of the staff of the Division of Energy Assistance in the U.S. Office of Community Services. See these pages at:
http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/liheap/grantees/
http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/liheap/federal_office/

The U.S. Department of Energy operates the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) website, which includes information, guidelines, resources, and state activities and contact lists. Visit the website at:
http://www.eere.energy.gov/weatherization/

The Weatherization Assistance Program Technical Assistance Center website provides weatherization practitioners and other energy conservation professionals with information related to the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), its on-going operations, and its partnerships with stakeholders. See it online at:
http://www.waptac.org/

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Clearinghouse Web site is an Internet information service for state, tribal and local LIHEAP providers, and others interested in low-income energy issues. Its overall goal is to expand and enhance information exchange on low-income energy issues with the national low-income energy network. The website is available at:
http://www.liheap.ncat.org/

Also see:

The State Median Incomes topic shows current and historic income amounts for various household sizes in each State.

Historical information on the income eligibility guidelines is available for State Median Income Estimates since FY 1974 at:
http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/4person.html

Current and historical data tables for the Federal Poverty Guidelines are available in the Poverty Guidelines - Federal topic.

Source:

Information in this topic was drawn from many of the web pages available at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services LIHEAP website at:
http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/liheap/


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