With record-breaking heat waves and severe winter storms becoming all the more common across the United States, you may find yourself in need of help paying your utility bills. Along with food and housing, utilities comprise some of the most basic expenses. If you are struggling to make ends meet, you may need utility assistance. If you’ve ever had your electricity or water turned off by the utility company, you already know how frustrating that can be. Luckily, there are several different programs that you might qualify for that could give you the help you need.
EFSP – also known as the Emergency Food & Shelter Program – is an energy program operated by FEMA. While FEMA usually provides assistance in the wake of natural disasters, they may occasionally provide one-time electric bill assistance. Qualification and eligibility requirements may vary depending on your county of residence. To find out where to apply, you can visit the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Program website.
Local Non-Profit Programs
Local religious organizations and houses of worship may have money available for those who need help paying utility bills. If you do not have a personal connection to a church or similar organization and still need some guidance, you might consider reaching out to the United Way. The United Way is a national organization that works with numerous local non-profits and may be able to point you in the right direction. Just call their help line by dialing 211 or search their online database. You can also search for “help paying utility bills near me.”
Lifeline is a program offered through the Federal Communications Commission that helps low-income Americans get free or discounted landline, internet or cell phone service. If you already participate in a federal low-income assistance program such as Head Start, Section 8, Supplemental Social Security, Medicaid or SNAP, you might automatically qualify for Lifeline. You can apply for the program through your telecommunications company.
There are several national and regional charitable organizations that might be able to help you pay your utility bills. For example, if you need help paying bills immediately, the Salvation Army may give you immediate assistance through its HeatShare program. In addition to getting help paying electric bills, it includes fuel assistance for natural gas, oil and propane costs. Another fuel assistance program is offered through Citizens Energy. The Joe-4-Oil program provides 100 gallons of heating oil to a limited number of low-income applicants in 16 states.
If your income does not allow you to qualify for government programs but you still can’t pay your utility bills, you may want to contact Modest Needs to see if you may receive a grant from this non-profit organization.
Utility-Provided Assistance Programs
Some utility companies offer energy assistance programs either on their own or through outside state or non-profit utility assistance programs. Some companies have special funds set aside for this purpose.
They may even have an option on their monthly bills for customers to voluntarily pay a few dollars extra a month to contribute to this fund for needy families. In addition, the utility company can be helpful in referring financially strapped customers to social service agencies that provide utility bill assistance. If you are falling behind on your utility bills or think that you might soon, call the utility company and inquire about getting help paying your bills to avoid disconnection.
LIHEAP – or the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – is an energy assistance program available across the country. It not only provides help with electricity bills, but also with costs for dealing with energy crises, weatherization and energy-related minor home repairs.
LIHEAP funds are funneled through state, territory, tribal and local government agencies as well as community action councils throughout the country. There is no national LIHEAP application; if you’re interested in participating, you need to apply through the agency or organization that distributes these funds.
You can conduct a search online for LIHEAP and include the name of your state. The state agency should give you information about LIHEAP funded organizations and agencies in your area, along with links to any LIHEAP application online for those agencies that offer this option. Each state has its own benefit amounts and income limitations.
EHEAP is similar to LIHEAP, but it focuses on seniors. EHEAP stands for Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly. To qualify, your household must be low-income according to EHEAP’s guidelines and include at least one person who is age 60 or older. The program pays electric bills up to two times a year if you are having a home energy emergency and are unable to pay the bill yourself.
To apply for help paying electric bills, you can contact your local Aging and Disability Resource Center, call the Elder Helpline at 800-963-5337 or contact a community EhEAP agency in your area.
Community Action Councils
Community Action Councils (CACs), also called Community Action Agencies (CAAs), are local non-profit organizations that may help you pay your utility bill. In addition to receiving government utility assistance program funds, they usually get additional donations from local individuals, businesses and foundations. You can find your local CAC through the Community Action Partnership’s website or by doing a search for “Community Action Agency near me.”
Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)
The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is administered by each state using federal funds. The program provides assistance in the form of services that aim to lower household energy needs. For example, the program may pay for installing insulation, replacing or repairing leaky windows and doors, sealing air leaks, minor roof repairs, weather stripping and water heater wraps.
Each state has its own program criteria for approval and benefits. While any low-income resident can apply, preference is generally given to people over age 60, families with one or more disabled members and families with children. If you already receive TANF or Supplemental Security Income, you may be automatically eligible.
Adjust Your Thermostats
An immediate change you can make to help lower your energy bills is adjusting your thermostat so that you run your air conditioner less in the summer and your heater less in the winter. In the winter, set your thermostat at 68 degrees while you are awake and lower it when you are sleeping or when you’re away from home. In the summer, set it at 76 degrees when you will be home, and higher when you are away. You can also lower the temperature on your water heater. Lowering it by 10 degrees could potentially save you 3-5% on your energy bills.
Keeping drapes and blinds closed during the hottest and coldest days can help insulate your home. Blackout curtains tend to be the most effective, since they reflect sunlight without any gaps. When the temperature is moderate, open your window treatments to let natural light in so you can avoid turning on your electric lighting.
Use Ceiling Fans in the Summer
While ceiling fans can’t lower the temperature in the room, they can make it feel cooler. That way, you can be more comfortable with your air conditioning at a higher temperature. Be sure to turn them off when you leave the room so you are not paying for the electricity to run them with no benefit.
Maintain Heating and Cooling Equipment
If your air conditioner or heater are not well maintained, they might be working harder (and using more energy) than they need to. Change your air filters frequently and periodically do recommended maintenance. Also, clean and maintain your heating and cooling system’s air ducts, since clogs, leaks and holes can cause your HVAC system to lose up to 20% of its efficiency.
It is also a good idea to always clean the lint screen in your dryer. Clothes dryers use about 6% of the home’s electricity and your clothes will dry faster without lint. Another bonus to cleaning the lint screen is that you can lower your risk of fires from compacted lint.
Wash Dishes More Efficiently
If you have a dishwasher, use it for your dishes rather than hand washing. It can save you around $40 per year on your bill and 5,000 gallons of water. However, opt out of using your dishwasher’s heat dry cycle. Instead, use air dry if that is an option, or open the dishwasher and air dry the dishes.
Switch to LED Bulbs
LED light bulbs use 75% less energy than traditional light bulbs. While they can be expensive at big box stores, many discount stores like Dollar Tree also carry them.
Installing solar panels can significantly lower or even eliminate some of your energy bills. Many communities have low-income solar programs that can install free solar panels on your home. Making these changes may help lower your utility costs over the long run and can be more environmentally friendly.