Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federal program geared to help low-income families with their energy bills. It was established by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, and it is available to states, territories, and Native American tribes within the US. For someone to qualify, the government stresses that household income must not exceed greater than 150 percent of the poverty level, or 60 percent of the state’s median income.

The LIHEAP program may also work together with the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) to pay energy bills and reduce energy costs. Eligible individuals and families can have portions of their winter energy bills paid directly to their utility companies through LIHEAP. Besides the energy bill, LIHEAP may assist in other crises, such as replacing faulty heating equipment, having a lack of fuel, or families in danger of having their utility services cut.

It’s important to know who to contact in order to get help from LIHEAP. While LIHEAP is a federally funded program, the federal government does not take applications for it. Funds are administered through the state level; thus, you must contact your local state agency to apply. There are also various tribal agencies to contact if you are a member of a Native American tribe living on a reservation. Finally, for territories like American Samoa and Puerto Rico, you can contact your local insular area agency. As with any program with limited funding, LIHEAP is a first come-first serve opportunity. Making contact with your local agency as soon as you need help is always better than putting it off!

There is a surprising amount of math and science involved in LIHEAP. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) uses census data to determine a recipiency targeting index. By comparing all eligible households and all LIHEAP recipients, HHS can determine a target group of new households for the upcoming years. In other words, if your household meets the income requirement and has at least one elderly individual (over 65) or a young child (under the age of 10), you may be a better candidate for LIHEAP assistance than a household without a young child or elderly individual.

Furthermore, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collects temperature data across the country to produce population-weighted, degree data averages. A “heating degree day” is the number of degrees for a particular day that the average temperature is below 65 degrees F, while a “cooling degree day” involves temperatures above 65 degrees F. (Example: If today’s high temperature is 70 and the low is 40, then the average temperature for today is 55. Therefore, today had 10 heating degree days.) The HHS will use this data to determine where and when assistance needs to be given. As a result, someone living in an area that experiences extreme temperature difference throughout the year (states in the Great Plains, for example) may be eligible for more assistance than someone living in a region with little temperature difference year-round (San Francisco, for example).

Getting government help with your bills primarily involves your income. However, other factors will affect how much you get, such as household demographics and even the climate. Contact your local agency or social worker to see if you qualify for assistance.

David Pilley

David Pilley

David Pilley is a May 2010 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a B.A. in communication studies and a creative writing minor. He is a native of Raleigh, North Carolina.

He played clarinet for the Marching Tar Heels in 2005 and 2006. He also volunteered for STV, the student-run television station at UNC-Chapel Hill, in the spring of 2010. He shot video, wrote scripts, and acted for “Off the Cuff,” UNC’s longest running sketch comedy show. He has the rare distinction of having lived in a dorm all four years of his undergraduate college career. He was also on Franklin Street on the night of April 4, 2009. His future plans are to pursue a master’s degree in journalism and to one day work for the media as a sports journalist or broadcaster.

Being one of eight children, David realizes finance is an important topic to everyone, regardless of his/her knowledge of the subject. His interests are in personal finance, budgeting, and savings.

In his spare time, David enjoys watching sports and standup comedy, as well as doing crossword puzzles and writing in the first person. He also thoroughly enjoys trivia and, one day, hopes to participate on the game show Jeopardy!, where he will try to break Ken Jennings’ 74-game win streak.
David Pilley

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