Energy Assistance and Weatherization

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Keeping the lights on and the house heated are not necessarily the first thoughts a parent has when they learn their child has disabilities, but eventually, the cost of energy can become a point of concern as expenses for doctor appointments, medications, therapies and other household expenditures increase.

What is energy assistance?

Often, a parent believes that there can be little done to curb the cost of energy; utility companies control rates and municipal governments choose energy providers. Come to think of it, it’s easy how parents can believe they are stuck with prohibitive costs.

No one feels comfortable risking an energy shut-off for non-payment because a child with disabilities may rely on energy resources for their health concerns. Medications need to be refrigerated. Computers, communication devices and voice synthesizers need to be plugged in or charged, as do some power wheelchairs.

Seasonality means that some energy bills, like electric, increase in the summer months as air conditioners are utilized while heating expenses rise in winter when snow arrives.

It might surprise parents to know that there are several federal, state and local resources that are designed to make paying energy bills easier or manageable.

The largest of these are the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which helps individuals who qualify for assistance manage energy costs by providing stipends, and the Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP, which gives individuals an opportunity to receive free, or low-cost energy modifications to their home in order to bring down costs.

Both programs are federally-funded and administered by state human services or social services departments. In addition, local energy providers may offer budgeted payment arrangements to qualified individuals.

LIHEAP

What is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program?

LIHEAP provides funds to economically vulnerable families to help them meet energy costs incurred at home. Generally, individuals assisted by LIHEAP fall into federal low income guidelines and families that include an at-risk family member are given preference in a system in which assistance is granted on a first come, first serve basis.

The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Community Services, or HHS-OCS. Funding for LIHEAP is disbursed to states through four separate funding sources, and allocations are based on several criteria.

Allocations are provided to all 50 states and tribal governments, and are based on several factors, including:

  • Climate
  • Economic outlook
  • Demographic formulas (i.e., median income)

Although LIHEAP is administered by the federal government, state governments have broad authority to design their programs. Generally, most state programs are income-based, but nearly all open up their annual application process to families that include a person with a disability, an elderly individual, or a young child before other applicants. This means that parents of a child with a disability have an excellent chance of receiving some assistance, providing they meet income requirements.

LIHEAP payments are arranged to defray the seasonal spikes in energy bills such as gas and electric. Payments are generally partial, and depending on an applicant’s state program, are based on the size and type of home and the type of fuel used, or a fixed benefit amount when an applicant pays a set percentage of his or her income to lower past-due charges.

Federal funds that pay for LIHEAP assistance generally run out very quickly, which means that all applicants that apply for assistance may not receive help. Each state sets its own enrollment period, usually beginning in the fall. In some instances, states may make appropriations to supplement federal funds in an effort to extend assistance to more individuals.

Why was LIHEAP created?

As energy costs steadily increased in the 1970s and 1980s, many families were forced to make difficult decisions about which bills to pay first, and what services to let go, because their income wasn’t pace with the increases. The economy at this time, much like it is today, also forced more families that previously had no difficulty paying bills to the margins.

LIHEAP began in 1980, when the U.S. Congress replaced the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. It was codified into law as an add-on to oil profits legislation to quell concern about rising energy costs in 1981.

Since it was created, LIHEAP has undergone some significant changes. In 1984, the program was shifted to include warm weather states. HHS estimates indicate that in the fiscal year ending 2013 $187 million was allocated to states to help low income families.

What is the purpose of LIHEAP?

LIHEAP was created to ensure that families struggling with financial troubles can remain safe. A shut-off situation creates a number of dangers to a family, including but not limited to exposure to excessive heat or cold, or fire hazards if families turn to other modes of heating a space, like space heaters. To minimize those dangers, LIHEAP aims to take care of immediate energy expenses to keep power up and running, and give families more time to resolve outstanding bills.

The program also gives the federal government some flexibility to release contingency funds that help families when emergencies occur – such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters that create severe increases in energy costs.

What are the eligibility requirements for LIHEAP?

The eligibility requirements for LIHEAP vary by state, but generally, an applicant will need to earn anywhere from 150 to 200 percent of the defined poverty rate. Additionally, some states may apply their own poverty guidelines for applicants to meet.

According to the poverty rate levels for 2012, a single person that earns 150 percent of the poverty level will earn $17,235 annually; at 200 percent of the poverty level, the income requirement increases to $22,980 annually.

A family of four that earns 150 percent of the poverty rate earns $35,325 annually, at 200 percent of the poverty level, the amount increases to $47,100.

States also have requirements in terms of what percentage of an applicant’s income is allocated for energy costs. If an applicant pays 30 percent of his or her income towards energy costs, it is highly likely that an application for assistance will be approved if funds are still available. However, it is always best to find out what a state’s specific eligibility requirements are.

What is the application process for LIHEAP benefits?

The application process for LIHEAP is relatively short in terms of applying for assistance from the federal government.

Because states administer the program, interested applicants should inquire with either their state’s social services agency – names of these agencies vary slightly by state – or their state energy department. In most cases, applications will be available online. For your convenience, MyChildTM has compiled a state resource list. If interested, call the MyChildTM call center at (800) 692-4453 and ask for Kit No. 320 – The Energy Assistance Kit.

When filling out paperwork, either in person or online, an applicant will be asked for the following information:

  • A state ID or driver’s license number
  • The annual income, from all sources, for all members of a family
  • Energy expenditures
  • Household related expenditures, such as rent or mortgages, car payments, and insurance

In most instances, applicants will be asked to supply the following papers:

  • Recent proof of income for every member of the family (pay stubs, bank statements)
  • A copy of all current heat and electric bills
  • A copy of a family’s lease agreement or mortgage papers
  • Social Security numbers for all household members
  • Proof of the receipt of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or other government assistance received

WAP

What is the Weatherization Assistance Program?

The Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP, is an initiative that helps qualifying low income families make permanent, energy-efficient repairs and upgrades to their home in an effort to decrease their energy costs.

WAP is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department’s function within the federal government is not necessarily to help families reduce their energy expenses; it’s to encourage energy efficiency in all aspects of life to free the United States from reliance on foreign oil. Appropriations for WAP are determined and instituted annually by the US Congress.

Most often, WAP participants also receive assistance through LIHEAP. The programs can work hand-in-hand efficiently to reduce household expense. This, in turn, allows families to allocate savings to apply to other resources.

Because WAP dollars are limited, an applicant may not be able to receive all the desired changes on his or her home. In this case, the most pressing concerns – the issues that are significantly contributing to energy loss – will be repaired or resolved.

Why was WAP created?

WAP was created in the 1970’s after huge increases caused by the oil crisis highlighted the need to save imported oil, and decrease energy bills for American families. The escalation of costs placed an undue hardship on low income families; especially individuals at-risk – people with disabilities, families with young children, and the elderly.

Weatherization, which at first consisted of simple home repairs, began in 1973. The WAP program, in its present form, was instituted in 1976 to assist families with energy expenditures. Generally, the program pays for replacement of storm doors, adding new caulking and covering windows with plastic.

Although the program initially was only available in cold weather states, WAP was extended to warm weather states. Today, WAP is available in all 50 states and tribal governments.

What issues does WAP help solve?

Weatherizing a home is a great deal more complex than replacing storm doors. Today, the program will assist in paying for significant repairs on a home or an apartment if an applicant provides permission from his or her landlord.

Some of the services that WAP helps pay for include:

  • Weather-stripping windows and doors
  • Emergency and temporary repairs to central air and furnace units
  • Air conditioner or furnace replacements
  • Wall insulation
  • Window glass replacement
  • Front and/or back door replacement
  • Ventilation equipment and repairs
  • Window replacements
  • Heating and cooling repairs
  • Electrical repairs
  • Appliance repair or replacement

What are the eligibility requirements for WAP?

The eligibility requirements for WAP vary by state. If a family qualifies for Supplemental Security Income or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds, they will likely qualify for WAP assistance.

Generally, a family will need to earn between 150 and 200 percent of the poverty level, depending on state requirements. According to the poverty rate levels for 2012, an income of $22,980 is 200 percent of the poverty level for a single person. For a family of four, that amount is $47,100 annually.

Like LIHEAP, families that include a member with disabilities, young children or the elderly may be given priority status.

What is the application process for WAP benefits?

The application process for WAP process starts at the state level. Because states administer the program, the first place an applicant should turn to is the state human services department or energy agency. One, or both, agencies should be able to provide applicants with a list of approved local weatherization providers. The organizations are typically experts in energy conservation; they may be non-profit agencies or local units of government.

Local weatherization may have an online application process, but in many cases, an applicant will need to apply in person.

The applicant will likely be asked for the following information:

  • A state ID or driver’s license number
  • The annual income, from all sources, for all members of a family
  • Energy expenditures
  • Household related expenditures, such as rent or mortgages, car payments, and insurance

In most cases, applicants will be asked to supply the following papers:

  • Recent proof of income for every member of the family (pay stubs, bank statements)
  • A copy of all current heat and electric bills
  • A copy of a family’s lease agreement or mortgage papers
  • Social Security numbers for all household members
  • Proof of the receipt of Temporary Assistance to Needy

Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or other benefits
If it is determined that an applicant will be placed on a wait list; if a family includes a member with a disability, it’s possible that they will be moved to the top of the wait list. When the time comes to make repairs and revisions, the family will need to schedule an energy consultation audit.

The consultation will include:

  • An inspection of all equipment
  • An analysis of all energy bills
  • An assessment of what measure will improve efficiency in a home

Only after an applicant has been approved for assistance, and the consultation is complete, can the work begin. The work will be completed by local contractors hired by the agency or non-profit groups that process an applicant’s request for assistance.

Other energy efficiency tips

What other resources are available that can help families defray energy costs?

While LIHEAP and WAP are the two most prevalent energy programs designed to assist families with overwhelming energy bills, depending on the area where a family lives, there may be other resources available.

Energy companies will run non-profit groups that have fundraisers and other events designed to assist people in danger of being shut-off of services. Additionally, non-government organizations, community-based organizations and faith-based organizations, such as local churches, Easter Seals, the Salvation Army or Catholic Social Services, may offer further assistance. For a list of resources available in your neighborhood, call the MyChild call center at (800) 692-4453 and ask for help finding community support and funding resources.

Local municipal governments may offer loan programs made possible by Community Development Block Grant funds that can be used to make energy-related repairs to a home or property. CDBG funds have application periods, as well. But the availability of these funds depends on how a municipal government decides to make use of its annual block grant allotment.

Families are urged to call their local energy providers to ask for information on their budgeted payment plans which aim to average the energy payments through seasonal periods, or provide payment arrangements for overdue bills.

At year end, families should seek the guidance of tax consultants to tap into tax credits or deductions for expenses expended towards energy efficiency.

Government Assistance

couple on front lawn looking at home

Government Assistance

Government assistance – also known as public assistance – is aid, service or supports that are provided to an individual by a government agency based on established criteria – income, disability, dependency or need, for example. Government resources come in the form of cash, food, services, shelter, technology, supports, and more.
Government Assistance