Can we really get energy assistance from the government and lower our electric bills? We all tend to use electricity/energy quite generously, but little thought goes into the process of generating that power. The government provides its people with the comfort of electric power, and they charge for the services provided accordingly.
A certain strata of the society are financially unstable and strained, which is an acceptable fact considering the rising unemployment rate in the past few years. So even though they equally benefit from the availability of electricity, they are unable to pay for the services rendered.
In order to cater to this particular group of people, the government has set forth certain norms and guidelines along with help programs, which would assist them in meeting their dues.
Some of them have been mentioned below;
- LIHEAP Program:
It is a federally funded energy bill assistance program. If a family belonging to a lower income group needs help in paying their monthly energy bills, they can apply for this program. The funds are made available by the government, to pay the dues for both winter heating and summer cooling, thus providing a year round service. Families in the low income group, families with a disabled member, senior family members or young child are given priority. The service provided by this program have a wide scope, some of them include; financial assistance towards a household heating or utility bill, emergency bill assistance if the household’s energy service is either shut off or about to be shut off, repair and replacement of utility equipment, financial budgeting and counselling, weatherization upgrades and improvements. The Obama Administration for FY2015 requested $2.8 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – a dramatic reduction from last year’s Appropriation of $3.4 billion
Who is eligible for LIHEAP assistance?
Households with a low or fixed income can apply for benefits under this program. One does not need to have an unpaid utility bill to receive energy assistance.
What type of assistance is provided?
The LIHEAP system provides for a segment known as the Cash Grant. It is provided to help in paying the utility bills, one doesn’t need to have any unpaid bill or be in any emergency situation to avail the benefits of this system.
Another segment includes the Crisis Grant. This caters to the people who are in an immediate danger of having their services cut-off. People who won’t be able to use their home heating systems can avail the benefits of this grant. The Crisis Grant provides certain additional perks in terms of financial assistance. It is designed to provide immediate relief to the customer.
Having said that, a listed set of emergency situations are provided and the actual scenario must resemble either one of them in order to obtain the LIHEAP grant benefits, they include;
1) Lack of heating oil.
2) Termination of utility of heating services.
3) Cooling or heating unit not working, leaking lines.
4) Replacement needs.
5) Households facing an imminent threat of having their services cut-off.
In order to apply for this program, certain conditions must be met. Applying from a local community action agency or the state government would suffice.
- Weatherization Assistance Program:
These programs are offered by all the states across the nation, with a primary aim of offering energy conservation means to the lower income households. They assist in reducing the energy, heating and utility bills and reducing the overall power consumption by almost 35 percent. Being funded by grants from the federal government, this program acts as a necessary support for the lower income group. They assist in reducing the monthly dues of the lower income families. It does not provide any cash or direct aid, but they do offer to help in reducing the immediate dependency of the people. They help in diverting finances of the families to much more pressing needs as opposed to unnecessary spending.
The grants provided are used in providing additional support to the public like installing floor insulation, door and window seals, space heaters, furnace repairs works, glazing, weather- stripping etc. The intention is to help minimize the monthly utility bill of the families.These programs have had a deep and profound impact on the energy usage patterns. Recent findings have shown that over 7 million families have received benefits from these progressive endeavours. The aim of achieving a lower monthly usage of power has been achieved.
How to apply?
They are managed and administered by the state governments, along with a number of other non-profit organizations. The monetary grants are provided by the US Department of Energy which are then dispensed accordingly by the state governments to cater to the expenses and needs of the local community action agencies.
Aside from the above mentioned programs, various others have also come into existence with a similar objective. The focus is on the reduction of energy usage. Others include;
- LITE-UP TEXAS PROGRAM:
It is designed to provide assistant to low income individuals in the region, to reduce their monthly electric expenses. In the months of May, June, July, August and September the program offers special discounts.
To become qualified for these services, one has to be enlisted for the benefits of Medicaid and SNAP. If you are not, even then you can apply provided that your household income is at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
Victims of Family Violence:
The electric service deposit is waived off for those who have victimized by family violence. Providing a Certification letter stating the same would be sufficient to serve your cause. The letter must be filled by a family violence centre personnel, law personnel, treating medical personnel or a Texas District Attorney or County Attorney, Office of the Attorney General personnel, or a grantee of the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation.
- American Red Cross:
It provides help in payment of electric bills to the families in need. They also provide several other facilities like aid to military families, health and safety classes, community services etc. In order to cater to these emergencies, Red Cross keeps certain amount of funds in reserve.
- Project SHARE:
The “Service to Help Alabamians with Relief on Energy” is a project initiated by Red Cross in Alabama. In its 30th year, it has consistently proven extremely helpful and viable. Providing energy assistance to the elderly or disabled in peak months of summers and winters is the main focus of the scheme. It caters specifically to the need of public belonging to the state of Alabama.
It is funded by customers belonging to the Alabama Power company, Gas Corporation and other such participating energy suppliers who pledge to donate 2$ or 5$ or any amount of money as per their wish to the Project, in their monthly utility bill.
- Operation Homefront:
The project has been initiated to cater to those military personnel who are currently in service, as well as ex-military. This program provides financial assistance like grants, counselling, and other aids. Families of wounded soldiers or service members are also covered under this scheme.
- Operation Round Up:
This program provides assistance in most of the states. They provide energy assistance funds and grants to lower income group families. They tend to generate the funding from customer contributions. In special cases they also provide additional help like paying for rent or medical bills.
- Saint Vincent de Paul:
Irrespective of the religious background of the concerned individual, this program offers assistance to those in need. This national charity organisation offers grants and even pays for bills and other basic needs. One must initially be applicable to qualify after adhering to their criteria. The funding is limited but those in dire need would certainly get the assistance they require.
- Salvation Army Family Emergency Services:
They provide additional help in payment of utility and electric bills, because they live by the motto that every individual is entitled to have the basic needs. Thus, by providing a safety net to those who have nowhere else to go, they are trying to change the social scenario, one person at a time. Some of the service they provide includes clothing, food, electric bill help and counselling.
- United Way:
The various utilities companies across have also taken some measures to ease off the burden faced by the low income group.
- Pennsylvania Energy Assistance Program:
The local body commission has introduced several programs which focus on this issue. Namely;
1) Budget Billing:
Once this system is activated, the customer would get the same bill every month, the utility company would adjust the bill up to 4 times a year, up or down depending on the customer’s usage. This gives a rough estimate to the user of his monthly expenses, therefore putting him in a better position to handle his finances in a much more productive fashion.
2) Customer Assistance Program (CAP)
In this scenario, the company directly talks to the customer and understand the amount of dues he can comfortably pay as compared to his energy usage, so that both the parties and come to a common conclusion and a unique solution which is acceptable to both parties.
Other programs include, Customer Assistance Referral and Evaluation Program, Low-Income Usage Reduction Program, Hardship Funds etc.
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