Debt Help for Low Income Families: Help with Utility Bills

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For many families this year, debt has been piling up because of loss of employment, increased cost of daily living expenses, or from other causes beyond their control. With debt mounting up, there isn’t enough income coming in to keep up with all the necessary expenses of providing for a family. Fortunately, there are ways to get help with debt reduction.

One way low income families can get help to reduce their utility bills debt may be through the LIHEAP program. Over 5 billion dollars has been appropriated this year to come to the aide of those who may be facing termination of home energy services.

THE LOW INCOME HOME ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (LIHEAP) MAY BE ABLE TO HELP KEEP YOU AND YOUR FAMILY SAFE AND HEALTHY.

STAY HEALTHY IN YOUR HOME

Energy assistance is important to all that receive it, but more so if someone in your home is elderly, disabled or a young child under 6 years old. These persons are especially at risk for life threatening illness or death if their home is too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer.

BE SAFE IN YOUR HOME

You can face safety risks if you are unable to pay your home energy bills. Some people resort to unsafe methods to keep their homes warm or cool. These include the use of fireplaces, stoves, improperly vented portable heaters, barbecue grills, or overloading electrical circuits. These methods are not only fire hazards, but also create the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR HELP WITH HOME HEATING AND/OR COOLING BILLS.

WHAT IS LIHEAP?

LIHEAP is a Federally-funded program that helps low-income households with their home energy bills.

LIHEAP can help you stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. By doing so, you can reduce the risk of health and safety problems (such as illness, fire, or eviction).

The federal government does not provide energy assistance directly to the public. Instead, LIHEAP operates in the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Indian tribes or tribal organizations, and the U.S. territories.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE LIHEAP ASSISTANCE?

The LIHEAP program in your community determines if your household’s income qualifies for the program. The LIHEAP program may also require households to meet additional eligibility criteria to receive LIHEAP assistance.*

*NOTE: The availability of LIHEAP assistance is not guaranteed. Often most of the Federal LIHEAP funds are spent during the winter.

WHAT ASSISTANCE DOES LIHEAP PROVIDE?

Your LIHEAP program may be able to offer you one or more of the following types of assistance:

  • Bill payment assistance.
  • Energy crisis assistance.
  • Weatherization and energy-related home repairs.

WHAT INFORMATION DO I NEED TO APPLY? YOU MAY NEED THE FOLLOWING:

  • Recent copies of your utility bills.
  • A recent payroll stub or other proof that shows your current gross income.
  • Documentation showing income from Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Pension Funds, disability, etc.
  • Final Utility Termination Notice (if you’ve received a shut-off notice from your energy company).
  • Proof of present address (e.g., rent receipt, lease or deed, property tax bill).
  • Proof of total members living in your household (e.g., birth certificates, school records, etc.).
  • Social Security cards (or numbers) for all persons living in your household.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent residence.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT LIHEAP AND WHERE TO APPLY

You can call the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) project. NEAR is a free service providing information on where your can apply for LIHEAP. You can speak to someone at NEAR Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m.- 5 p.m. (Mountain Time).

You can:

  • Call the toll-free phone number at: 1-866-674-6327,
  • send an e-mail to: [email protected]
  • or you can contact your State’s LIHEAP office

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Administration for Children and Families
Office of Community Services
Division of Energy Assistance
November 2009

Additional Information:

The LIHEAP Clearinghouse provides free telephone and e-mail referrals to people who want to know where to apply for low- income energy assistance. Those seeking help can call the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) project toll-free at 1-866-674-6327 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Eastern Time) or email NEAR at [email protected]. Please include your city, county and state in your email message.

Programs and Agency Listings by State. People who need contact information for their local and state LIHEAP agencies, as well as for any available low-income utility programs or charitable assistance resources in their state, can go to http://neaap.ncat.org/programs/index.htm and select their state to find a listing of its low-income energy programs, including website links, email addresses and 800-phone numbers.

LIHEAP dollars are distributed by Local Community Action Agencies, usually at the county level. The Salvation Army processes applications in many states. To find the phone number of your community action agency, call your state’s energy assistance director. A listing can be found at http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/liheap/states.htm.

Private Fuel Funds. There are non-federal dollars available from local fuel funds, which frequently are contributed by your neighbors when they pay their utility bill. Ask the state energy assistance office for the local phone number of the fuel fund nearest your residence. Your local fuel fund may be listed at www.nationalfuelfunds.org.

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