What is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program?

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is a program of the Department of Health and Human Services department of the federal government that helps families cover their energy costs.

In some states, it is also referred to as the Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP. 

The program was established in 1981 and receives annual funding by Congress, which is then distributed to qualifying recipients through the state, territory, and Native American tribal governments, though some states add additional revenue to their state allocation to add to the fund and help more residents. 

There are also some discretionary funds Congress sets aside every year for the President to use in cases of emergency. 

LIHEAP funds are not the exact same amounts for every state, since they are distributed based on demographics, economic conditions, and the local climate of the state. 

Some funds are designated to be used in summer to help with air conditioning costs because of an amendment to the program passed in 1984, though most LIHEAP funds are used in the wintertime.

Who qualifies for LIHEAP?

To qualify, a family needs to be at 150% of the federal poverty level, though in some states the amount is set higher. 

For states that have residents who make higher average incomes, the poverty amount for that state is based on 60% of the state’s median income. Factors that go into determining how much an applicant will receive include: 

  • the type of heating in the home 
  • how big the home is
  • what type of home it is. 

How are the funds used?

LIHEAP funds are used to help low-income families pay their heating bills. The funds are given out only once, and preference is given to households that have young children, elderly, and disabled residents. 

The allocation is usually based on a first-come, first-served method, so there are a lot of applications submitted at the beginning of the season.

Payments, once approved, are usually given directly to the utility company and show up as a credit on the bill. When funding runs out, the offices that handle distribution close. 

Just like the president, each state governor may have some discretionary funds he or she can use if need be. 

Weatherization Assistance Program

Part of the LIHEAP program sometimes includes giving families weatherization assistance. 

These incorporate ways of retaining heat in the home through caulking and weather-stripping, fixing broken windows, or improving furnace efficiency by giving it a tune-up. 

Some states require the weatherization programs as part of receiving LIHEAP funds.  More information about this program, called the Weatherization Assistance Program, is available here: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wip/wap.html 

Grants

Some grants have been set up using a fraction of the overall funding for things like energy efficiency workshops, budget assistance and counseling, coops for home energy purchases, and weatherization materials.

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