An astonishing 23% of U.S. households were unable to pay at least part of their energy bill in the past year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey.1 Many more struggle to meet those expenses that jump when the weather is either hot or cold.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration2 forecasts that U.S. households that primarily use natural gas for heating will spend an average of $931 on heating from October 2023 to March 2024, which is 28% ($206) more than last year.
Thankfully, there is help available:
- Government utility assistance programs
- Utility company programs
- Non-government agency energy assistance programs
Government assistance for utilities
The federal government has multiple programs to help low-income households pay for utilities, including gas, electric, and water bills.
The funds from these programs are grants that do not have to be paid back, and each state sets its own rules for eligibility and payout amounts. The names of these programs might also vary by state.
Many of the programs on this list determine eligibility as a percentage of the federal poverty level (FPL). These are the 2023 federal poverty guidelines:
|Number of people in family/household||Annual income|
* For families/households with more than 8 people, add $5,140 for each additional person.
You can also look up your area median income (AMI) here.
Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP)
Also known as LIHEAP (Low-Income HEAP), LIEAP, or EAP, this nationwide program helps income-eligible households:
- Pay past-due utility bills and outstanding balances
- Get utilities turned back on
- Access fuels like oil or coal
- Make upgrades to reduce energy costs (like new windows or insulation)
- Make energy-related repairs (such as a broken furnace)
In general, HEAP applications are accepted year-round, though some states might have specific deadlines for different types of assistance.
To find out more about your state’s application deadlines and services, reach out to the government-funded energy assistance program offered in your state.
To qualify for HEAP, you’ll need to meet certain income requirements for the size of your household. For example, in Ohio, your household income must be less than $40,302.50 for a family of three.
Typically, there is one-time financial help available per season, per household.
If you are already receiving government benefits from the following programs, you may automatically qualify:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Keep in mind, these programs may have slightly different names in your state. For example, the TANF program in Colorado is called Colorado Works.
You can get energy assistance if you meet income requirements even if you do not participate in these programs, so you should apply if you need help. Most states also have the following requirements:
- At least 18 years old or an emancipated minor
- Responsible for heating/cooling and energy costs at your address, whether you pay your landlord or a utility company
- Have a history of making utility payments
HEAP information and income requirements in these state-by-state resource guides for low-income families:
How to apply for HEAP
In many cases, you can apply online through your state benefits portal. If you prefer to talk to an actual person, you can:
- Go to your local social services office
- Call 866-674-6327 for the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) project
- Email NEAR at [email protected]
Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)
The U.S. Department of Energy’s State and Community Energy Program (SCEP) offers WAP to help reduce energy costs.
This program helps low-income households by providing weatherization services free of charge, working with more than 700 weatherization providers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Native American tribes, and U.S. territories.
Examples of weatherization services include:
- Installing programmable thermostats
- Cleaning, repairing, maintaining, or replacing home heating and/or cooling systems
- Installing insulation were needed
- Putting in low-flow faucet and shower heads
- Replacing appliances with energy-efficient models
If accepted into the program, you will work with a weatherization provider that will assess what’s needed to help save energy and money in your home.
To be eligible for WAP, you must meet income guidelines for your household size. The DOE requires that your income is at or below 200% of the FPL.
You may also be eligible if you receive:
- Aid to Families with Dependant Children
- HEAP (LIHEAP) benefits
Priority may also be given to households that have high energy use, children, elderly persons, or one or more people with a disability.
How to apply for WAP
To apply for WAP, contact your state WAP administrator.
Learn more about home repairs for low-income households in this post: Free home repairs.
Utility company programs for low-income families
Even if you receive HEAP, you might need more financial help. You can turn to your utility provider to ask about energy assistance programs.
For example, Con Edison, which provides energy services to 10 million people in New York City and Westchester County, offers the Energy Affordability Program. If you live in those areas, you are automatically eligible if you receive:
- Safety Net Assistance
Each utility provider will have its own eligibility requirements and may offer a range of benefits such as:
- Bill payment assistance: One-time or ongoing temporary help with bill payments to help you get up to date on your account
- Payment plans: Allows you to break up your outstanding balance into smaller payments, making it easier to get caught up
- Budget billing: Considers your utility usage and establishes payments that are the same amount each month
- Utility bill forgiveness and credits: Does not require you to pay a past due bill or balance
How to apply for utility company programs
Each provider will have its own application process. Contact your current utility provider to find out what programs may be available or visit your utility provider’s website. If you receive government benefits, your caseworker is another resource to help you find energy assistance programs.
Non-government home energy assistance programs
Home energy assistance programs are offered by nonprofits, charities, churches, and community agencies. To get started, you can google phrases like:
- “Home energy assistance programs near me”
- “Nonprofit utility bill assistance”
- “Charities that offer energy assistance”
- “Fuel fund near me”
These searches can help you find local options. For example, the Fuel Fund of Maryland helps eligible Marylanders with a Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) account get services reconnected after financial hardship.
Here are more options to consider:
Catholic Charities emergency energy assistance
Catholic Charities has regional offices throughout the country to help people in the communities they serve. Some offices offer emergency assistance, which includes financial help with turning on utilities that have been shut off.
Dollar Energy Fund
Dollar Energy Fund has been providing help for low-income households for more than 40 years. Dollar Energy Fund works with 50 utility service providers in 18 states to provide grants to restore turned-off utility service or prevent a shutoff for at-risk families.
If you don't qualify for help from government programs, this may be a great option to get help.
Salvation Army utility assistance
Founded in 1865, the Salvation Army has a long track record of helping families. The charity offers utility assistance to help families remain in their homes. People who have received a shutoff notice or had their service disconnected are most likely to qualify for help.
Society of St. Vincent de Paul utility bill help
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is active in communities across the United States and more than 150 other countries. Some local branches of this charity offer energy bill help. Programs and services vary by location.
United Way electric bill assistance
The United Way connects people to the resources they need, including electric bill assistance and other utility costs. Dial 211 on your landline or cell phone to get in touch with the United Way, or visit 211.org.
What to expect when you apply for utility assistance
Getting assistance to pay for utilities can take some time, so you should apply as soon as you realize you might need help.
According to a LIHEAP specialist caseworker on Reddit, the process typically takes 30 days, though some applications may be approved in as little as 48 hours in the event of a crisis.
Preparing to apply for energy assistance
Ready to apply for energy assistance? Here’s what you’ll likely have to do:
- Gather your income paperwork: You’ll be required to provide information about your income, such as pay stubs, a W-2 form, or 1099 forms
- Provide proof of residency and identity: Programs may require a government-issued form of ID and proof of citizenship status
- Show proof of utility bill responsibility: You can only apply for these programs if you are in charge of paying the utility bill, so be ready to show recent bills with your name and address or proof of payment if you pay a landlord directly
- Share information about other assistance programs: Provide your determination documents if you are receiving benefits from programs like SNAP, SSI, or TANF
Here what some Reddit users had to say:
Applying for benefits
Most energy assistance programs have application deadlines. In general, government energy assistance applications like LIHEAP are available year-round.
Depending on what your state offers, you’ll either apply through an online portal or walk through the application process with a social services caseworker.
If applying for non-government benefits or help through your utility provider, you’ll need to follow their application process, which can often be found on the website or by calling the energy provider.
After you apply
Once you submit your application, your program contact should give you an idea of:
- How long the application process takes
- Amount you can expect to receive for help
- When you can expect the financial help
- How the amount will be paid (usually directly to the energy supplier or landlord)
- How often you can get help (many programs offer once a year or temporary help)
- The process for applying in the future if you need utility assistance again
More resources for single moms
Need more financial help to get you through the year? Check out our other resources for low-income families:
Also, learn about ways to get free money for bills, including through the Low Income Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP), a federally funded program to help you pay for your water and sewer (wastewater) bills.
Contact your state LIHWAP administrator or visit your local social services office to apply.
- “U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey,” August 23, 2023. U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html
- “U.S. natural gas bills will increase in all regions this winter,” Oct. 17, 2023. U.S. Energy Information Administration. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=54259#:~:text=In%20our%20latest%20Winter%20Fuels,%24206)%20more%20than%20last%20year