Get Help Paying Your Heating Bill - A Guide to Energy Assistance Programs

child-by-radiatorHome heating isn't a luxury. When the weather turns cold and winter winds rattle the roof, keeping our homes warm isn't just a matter of personal comfort - it's necessary for survival. Statistics show that mortality rates increase significantly in the wintertime, from direct exposure to freezing temperatures as well as from health conditions that are aggravated by cold weather.

But as energy costs rise, more and more people find their budgets stretched too thin to cover all their expenses. Forced to choose between essentials, heat is too frequently sacrificed in favor of food or health care.

Fortunately, there are many options available to you if you find yourself unable to pay your home heating costs. From government energy assistance programs to charitable fuel programs, here are the resources you can turn to when you need help.

pile-of-billsYour Local Utility

Before going anywhere else, contact your local heating company to discuss payment options. Most will be willing to work with you to establish a schedule that will let you spread out your payments over the whole year, so you avoid higher bills in the winter months. Other options might include payment deferral and late-fee cancellation, depending upon the circumstances of your need.

Be prepared to discuss the reasons why you cannot pay your heating bill - you're on a fixed income, high healthcare costs, unexpected expenses, etc. If you're honest about your circumstances and express a sincere intent to pay, most utilities will help you find a workable solution. The utility will also be able to refer you to local energy assistance programs that can help.

State and Local Utility Assistance Resources

Every state and most counties and municipalities offer referral assistance to those who need help paying their heating bills. Call the local health and human services department in your area and ask to speak with an assistance worker and inquire about heating assistance programs.

Relief programs offered by state and local governments will vary, but might include alternative energy rates, rebate programs, weatherization and home improvement services, and fuel (oil, gas, coal) grants.

LIHEAP - Federal Energy Assistance Program

senior-with-thermostatThe Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is funded by the federal government and is designated to help pay heating bills for low-income households. The income limits for LIHEAP assistance vary from state to state, but generally speaking if you receive food stamps or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) then you're probably eligible for LIHEAP.

There are two types of assistance grants available from LIHEAP, the Cash grand and the Crisis grant.

To find the community action agency responsible for processing LIHEAP applications in your area, contact the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) hotline by calling 1-866-674-6327, or by emailing mailto:energyassistance@ncat.org.

Charity Fuel Assistance Programs

Aside from government-funded heating assistance programs, charitable organizations across the country exist to provide assistance to low income households in need of help with heating costs. National groups such as United Way, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services and the Salvation Army all have localized programs to assist low-income households meet their heating costs. Other organizations exist just for the sake of helping with the rising cost of fuel, like the Citizen's Energy Oil Heat Program which provides heating fuel to struggling families in 23 states.

Your local health and human services department or even your local utility should be able to inform you of the charity organizations in your area that can help provide heating assistance.

Reducing Heating Bills

bill-payingWhile you are considering your alternatives for heating assistance, there are some quick, low-cost steps you can take to reduce heating expenses each month.

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