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Need help with home heating bills?

You can find assistance from the government, utility companies and nonprofit groups.

By Karen Datko Jan 11, 2010 4:47PM

It was 26 below zero outside (with no wind chill) when we woke up the other day. Inside it was a bearable 60 degrees, thanks to our programmable thermostat (and three pairs of socks inside fuzzy slippers). Even at that low setting, the furnace kept kicking on, and on.

 

Days like that can make a person anxious about the power bill. And it’s not over yet, as Florida shivers through record cold.

 

With so many people losing their jobs, giving up looking for work, or living on subsistence incomes, a big power bill can make a stressful situation feel even more desperate. What if you can’t afford that bill -- particularly an unseasonably high one that will result from the cold snap many people have suffered through?

There’s help, but it’s a patchwork effort and differs in every state. We’ll help you find it.

 

The federal program that helps low-income people with heating and cooling bills is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (commonly known as LIHEAP). These one-time grants are administered differently in every state and are usually not the only source of funds.

Luckily, this LIHEAP Clearinghouse Web page provides links to information about heating and weatherization help in all 50 states, including LIHEAP grants and other programs offered by utility companies and nonprofit groups. For instance:

  • Here in Montana, the Human Resource Development Councils give out LIHEAP money, and eligibility is 200% of the federal poverty level. Many of the power companies and cooperatives also help people who can’t pay heating bills.
  • In addition to providing financial assistance, Pennsylvania is one of several states that require utility companies to work with struggling consumers by, for example, limiting utility bills to a percentage of income.

Use a search engine like Bing to identify other resources:

  • Here’s a recent alert (.pdf file) for residents of Michigan, who have a variety of programs to help with heating bills.
  • Check the Web site of your power company. For instance, this one gives detailed information about help from PSEG, based in Newark, N.J.
  • Seniors will likely find excellent information at the local senior center. Many have Web sites.

If you exceed your state's definition of low-income and still need help, don't give up. For instance:

  • In New Jersey, the Press of Atlantic City reports, “New Jersey SHARES assists people who may not qualify for federal or state programs and whose income does not exceed 400 percent of the federal poverty level.”
  • The city of Indianapolis and the United Way of Central Indiana have a Winter Assistance Fund for families of four with an income of $33,000 or more.

Nearly 8 million U.S. households got one-time grants from LIHEAP to pay heating bills last year, and the number of applications is expected to increase by 20% (.pdf file). Congress has renewed funding at last year’s amount -- $5.1 billion -- so households will either get smaller grants or the programs that distribute the money will run out before the need does.

 

That’s why it’s so important to find other sources of financial aid. And if you have money to spare, perhaps you’ll donate to one of those efforts.

 

Related reading:

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