The rough economic state of our country has made it increasingly more difficult for certain groups of people to be able to afford even some of the most basic needs in life. Fortunately, most people know there are State and Federal programs as well as charities for those that can’t afford necessities like food and shelter. But other programs are not has well known a good example being the LIHEAP program which gives those in need help with utilities.
Why Assistance with Utilities is made Possible
For some people like the elderly, extremely young and the disabled staying warm in winter and cool in summer can be a matter of life and death. But all too often many of these people become unnecessary victims of extreme temperatures simply because they couldn’t afford to pay their electric or gas bill. And in some cases this lack of funds forces some to turn to unsafe methods to heat there home which often times leads to the loss of life. Some of the unsafe heating methods that should never be used under any circumstance include using cooking stoves, improperly vented portable heater and grills. These heat sources are dangerous fire hazards and can also fill your home with the deadly gas carbon monoxide. If all of this sounds a little too familiar for you or for someone you know then you may be eligible for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program better known as LIHEAP.
Getting Help with Utilities from LIHEAP
The LIHEAP program is federally funded and operates in each of the 50 States as well as in Washington D.C., all the U.S. territories, Indian tribes and tribal organizations. The program is designed to help low income families as well as people who have found themselves in temporary emergencies with energy crises assistance, bill payment assistance and/or with weatherization and energy related home repairs. With eligibility being based on the median income of an area it is imposable to say here who is and isn’t eligible. Each State has its own LIHEAP agency where you can find answers to all of your questions. Information including the phone numbers and websites of each agency can be found at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap/grantees/states.html. Or you can contact the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) project at 1-866-674-6327 Monday through Friday 7a.m. to 5 p.m. for information on where you can apply for LIHEAP. Some of the information they will require from you will include recent copies of utility bills, the Final Termination Notice from your energy company if you have received one, proof of current address, proof of the number of people in your household and a recent pay stub or proof of your current gross income including income from Social Security, Pension Funds, Unemployment Insurance and disabilities. You will also need the Social Security numbers of everyone in your household and proof of U.S. citizenship.
Other State and Private Programs that Help with Utilities
If you are a senior, disabled or a low income family you may also be eligible for the Weatherization Assistance Program which helps you with most of the things mentioned above and much more. The program helps by improving energy conservation and the heating system efficiency of your home. For more information on this program you can visit http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wip/wap.html . Other websites you may be interested in are benefitscheckup.org and benefits.gov. These sites can help you find State and private program that help with household bills, medical bills and many other things you may be eligible for.
Start by Helping Yourself
Regardless of whether you qualify for Government assistance or not there are things you can and should do to help lower your utility bills. Some of the most basic things include turning lights off when you leave a room, using lower wattage light bulbs or switching to compact fluorescent lights (CFL’s) and make sure your furniture is not blocking any of the furnace vents. You can also take shorter showers instead of baths, keep the curtains on the sunny side of your home open during the day and lower the thermostat a few degrees. Some of the more aggressive options include adding insulation to walls, ceilings, attics and crawl spaces, sealing cracks and holes around doors and windows with caulk, weather stripping and/or by sealing windows and unused doors with heat shrink plastic. You can also install a water heater blanket so your water heater doesn’t have to work as hard, regularly change your furnace filter and buy Energy Star rated appliances when ever the time comes to buy new appliances.
There are an endless number of ways that you and your family can conserve energy. Doing a simple search online will give you dozens of ways that haven’t been mentioned here. Or if you would like the help of a professional you can contact your local utility companies to see if they provide free energy audits. Once the audit is finished you should have a full list of things you can do to improve your situation.
Not Eligible for Help with Utilities?
So a this point you may be asking yourself what other options do I have if I am ineligible for assistance from any of the programs mentioned above but still having trouble paying my utility bills? Well, depending on your situation and certain other variables you may still have several options. For one you can sign up for budget billing which levels out the amount you payment every month. So for instance if you’re electric bill is $100 in the spring and fall but $300 in the summer and winter budget billing allows you to pay $200 every month during the year. The benefit to this is that you always know in advance how much your electric bill will be. Another option you may explore is a deferred payment agreement with the utility company. If you are unable to pay your bill in full contact the company and explain your situation. The company must make a good faith effort that gives you a chance at entering a reasonable deferred payment agreement. Contact your utility company for details.
Another option you have is to get more time to pay your bill through the Winter Termination Program. For example if you have become the victim of circumstances beyond your control like a medical emergency, being laid off from your job or the recent death of a spouse the utility company cannot shut off your power or gas from November 15 through March 15 or if the temperature is expected to be below 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 24 hours. If you find yourself in one of these situations contact your local utility company for more information.
There is one other option and that is to file for bankruptcy but this should be used only has a last resort. And it is highly recommended that you speak with an attorney before pursuing this option.
Hopefully the information above as been has been a source of comfort for you and your family. If you feel you qualify for any of the programs mentioned it is recommended that you contact them as soon as possible. And waiting will only complicate matters. Hope you have a safe and warm winter season!