By definition, a utility bill is an invoice received by a household for payment of metered usage of electricity, gas, or other utilities at a residence. With the growing demand, decrease in supply, and increase in poverty, some households find it hard to cope up with the payments for these basic home utilities. Thus, there are struggling households need help paying utility bills. There are federal agencies and non-governmental groups that extend assistance to households that are struggling to keep up with their utility bills. Grants are also extended to families below the federal poverty guidelines. Assistance is commonly offered for payment of utility bills, including heating and cooling bills. Grants are offered in either crisis programs or assistance programs, which means that a family does not need to have an unpaid bill to avail of the assistance.
The US Department of Health and Human Services, through the Office of Community Services, has launched the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP.) The LIHEAP’s mission is to assist low income households, particularly those with the lowest incomes that pay a high proportion of household income for home energy, primarily in meeting their immediate home energy needs. The LIHEAP may extend help paying utility bills in the form of four different grants: the Block Grant, the Leveraging Incentive Program, the Residential Energy Assistance Challenge Program or the Contingency Funds.
LIHEAP authorization provides that an eligible household’s income must not exceed the greater of 150 percent of the poverty level or 60 percent of the State median income (In FY 2009, 75 percent of the State median income). Grantees may not set income eligibility standards below 110 percent of the poverty level, but they may give priority to those households with the highest home energy costs or needs in relation to income. Eligible applicants for help paying utility bills may come from any of the fifty states of the country, the District of Columbia , five territories, and about 140 Tribes and Tribal organizations.
Utility Bill Assistance from LIHEAP
LIHEAP may offer one or more of the following types of help paying utility bills, depending on which state an applicant is residing.
- LIHEAP heating or cooling funds to increase the affordability of home energy and fuel consumption
- LIHEAP energy crisis assistance to assist weather-related and fuel supply shortages and other household energy-related emergencies, such as utility shutoffs
- LIHEAP low-cost residential weatherization and other energy-related home repairs to increase the efficiency of use of home energy, thus lowering home utility bills while maintaining comfortable homes
Other Federal Sources of Assistance
LIHEAP is organized by the Office of Community Services (OCS) who works in partnership with states, communities, and other agencies to provide a range of human and economic development services and activities which remedy the causes and characteristics of poverty. Aside from such goal, the OCS is also tasked to provide assistance like help paying utility bills to the people affected by the causes and characteristics of poverty. OCS if part of the 18 Staff Divisions of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is the principal agency for protecting the health and welfare of all Americans.