Utility Bill Assistance Guide: Help Paying Your Electric, Water, or Heating Bills

Posted on Nov 12 2014 - 4:00pm by admin

There are different level of assistance. One area of assistance you might not be familiar with is ‘utility bill’ assistance.

Basically, if you are in danger of losing essential services like water, electric, and heating because you can’t pay, it’s possible to get special grants to help pay these bills.

These programs are part of various Low Income Assistance / Public Assistance programs and range from government-backed programs, non-profit charities, and the utility companies themselves.

The help comes from specifically:

  • Federal and State Programs
  • Utility Companies
  • Local Organizations (non-profits, charities, churches, etc)

What to Do If You Need Help Paying Essential Service Utilities?

  1. Contact your utility company and ask what assistance programs they offered directly. Often, water, heating, and electric companies have assistance programs in place for those who can’t afford to pay the bill. The funds are drawn from a community sponsored fund or may be part of a grant initiative from the government or even by the utility company directly. What usually happens is that your bill cost will be reduced or you will be given credit of some sort. This is not a permanent solution, but if you are behind it can give you some breathing room and keep your utilities turned ON for a time.
  2. Look at the Federal and State programs that offer some sort of grant assistance for utilities.
  3. Look at various non-profit organizations that offer utility bill help.

Assistance from Utility Companies

If you have problems paying your utility bill, the best thing to do right away is contact them and ask what sort of assistance programs are offered, either by them directly or by other programs by other organizations. Chances are there are in fact programs in place that can provide you with some assistance.

  • Restructured Utility Payment Plans: Your utility company may restructure your bill debt over a longer period of time if you can’t pay a lump sum. While this is not directly financial assistance, it does allow more flexibility for your payments.
  • In-house Utility Assistance Programs: Some utility companies do offer assistance programs for customers who can’t pay their bills. You will need to call your utility company in question directly and ask what help programs (if any) are offered. Chances are there is some program available, especially if the company is a large nation company. This can apply to energy, heating, and water utility companies.
  • Winter Protection Programs and Plan: Some utility companies have plans in place NOT to shut down or disconnect essential services such as heating IF members of that house scheduled to be disconnected are sick or there are senior citizens living there or children. This plan is often required by the government, but it can change depending on the state you live in. Note this is not a grant program – you will likely need to commit to a repayment plan, but it’s useful to keep the heating on during the winter when you need it.  You will need to specifically call your current heating provider to ask.
  • Water bill assistance programs: American Water, the largest water utility company in the US, offers a water assistance program for people who can’t afford to pay their bill. You should contact American Water about this program. They offer two specific programs Low Income Payment Program which can knock up to twenty percent off of your water bill and even specific cash assistance given. The other plan is the H2O Help to Others program which offers a onetime grant amount of up to $500 dollars to help with water utility costs.
  • Government Backed Utility Assistance Programs: In addition to a company’s in-house assistance programs, there may be government-backed programs you can apply for. These could be separate programs that you must apply for OUTSIDE of the utility company or it could be some type of grant given by the government to the energy company for people like you. The best way to find out is to ask directly about this OR you can contact your Community Action Agency and ask. One example of a government level energy assistance is the LIHEAP program.
  • Free Household Energy Audit: Another interesting program offered for free or heavily discounted by your energy company. Basically a service agent from the company will come to your place of residence and check your equipment and energy consumption. They will make recommendations on what should be upgraded or replaced to save energy costs. In some cases, the utility company will even assist with some of the costs. This can work in conjunction with government backed weatherization programs which offer grants to help you upgrade your heating/cooling equipment.
  • Telecommunication Company Assistance: Another source of assistance might be from your phone/internet provider itself. You can contact them and ask if any assistance programs are offered. In some cases, the company may waive some of the fees or reduce the costs or give you some credit. It’s worth asking.

Non Profit Organizations Offering Utility Bill Assistance

There are a number of non-profit’s that have programs targeting utility bill assistance. These are offered by charities, nonprofit organizations, or government-backed local organizations. The goal of these organizations is to help needy households keep essential services. The help is always temporary though — you are given just enough to help you through a particularly hard time, but the funding is limited and you will ultimately need to become self sufficient.

  • Salvation Army Emergency Services: Another aid program offered by the Salvation Army. This service offers you utility bill assistance among other services. You will have to locate your nearest Salvation Army office and contact them or contact your local Community Action Agency about this service.
  • Union Plus Program (Discounted Home Heating Oil): Assistance offered to members of work unions in the northeast United States are eligible. Basically, if you live in one of the applicable states and are a member of a worker’s union, you can apply for subsidized heating oil – the subsidized oil can save you hundreds of dollars a year in heating costs – provided you use oil to heat your home.
  • National Fuel Funds Network: A non-profit network of different organizations, utility companies, community action agencies, and other agencies and businesses. The idea behind this is to fundraise funds to assist those who cannot afford to pay their electric or heating bills. This is a collective consortium of very diverse members and the network itself does not provide direct funds but rather backs local organizations with funds for utility assistance. Your best bet is to contact your local Community Action Agency.
  • Operation Roundup: A program that gives out cash assistance to households who cannot pay their utility bills (heating, electric, etc). This program is shared by many different utility companies around the US, so it should be available in pretty much every state. To apply for this aid, you will need to send off an application with the utility company offering this program. There is no guarantee of acceptance (your case will be looked at by someone), but if you get approval, the grant money can be used to pay off your utility bills and can range from a few dollars to hundreds – even thousands – of dollars. To apply: call up your utility company and ask if they offer financial assistance. You can also visit your local community action agency to see what utility companies if your region offer this program.
  • Dollar Energy Fund: An older utility/energy assistance program that’s been around for a few decades now. It’s basically a charity fund that offers assistance grants to help with utility bills. Like most of the programs, contact your Community Action Agency to see what utility companies in your region offer this program. Keep in mind that different utility/energy companies will have different names for this program.
  • Oil Heat: A program focusing on lower income residents. This program delivers subsidized heating oil to needy households. You can receive up to one hundred gallons of heating oil for free, if you qualify. This is a private program that’s not government backed. But with the likes of the government Low Income Home Energy Assistance, the Oil Heat program can get you through the cold winter. You’ll need to call Call 1-877-JOE-4-OIL to apply.

Government Utility Bill Assistance Programs

The government has various energy and utility bill assistance programs for seniors, single moms, single dads and other individuals who are unable to make payments for essential utilities. This includes water, electricity, heating, and even home repairs. The idea behind these programs is founded on the believe that everyone deserves the basic necessities of life – and if your financial ability does not allow you to pay for such, then temporary aid will be provided to make sure you can survive.

  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is the largest energy assistance program in the United States. It’s a federally funded and accessible in every state in America. LIHEAP offers needy individuals two services: financial assistance to help with heating / cooling and energy costs and weatherization programs (remodeling your residence to make it more energy efficient). The assistance consist of grant money that can be used to pay off your utility bills. In some cases if your services have been disconnected, LIHEAP offers extra fast processing of the funds so you can get basic utilities back on. LIHEAP has two major assistance programs:
      1. LIHEAP crisis program: an offshoot of the normal program. Basically this is an expedited service offered to households facing imminent utility disconnection or who already have been disconnected. In other cases, heading equipment may be broken and inoperable. Basically, this program is emergency help for heating and electricity. Apply via your community action agency.
      2. Weatherization Program: LIHEAP offers grants to help ‘weatherize’ your residency. This basically means you can upgrade your heating or cooling units, help cover insulation costs, or make unsafe heating/cooling units safe. Apply via your Community Action Agency.

      • Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP): Another government backed energy assistance program. Basically this program will help pay the difference between what you can afford and what the actual energy costs you face are.
      • Heating Repair Replacement Program (HARRP): A government initiative to offer help to low income persons. The funds are distributed at the local level rather than the federal level, which means you’ll need to contact your local Community Action Agency to find out how to apply. The idea behind this program is to offer grant funding to households who upgrade their heading units to be more energy efficient. Changing / Upgrading your heating units / furnaces and other such applies can be a costly enterprise, but with the help of HARRP much less so and even affordable for low income households.
      • Government Utility Disconnection Laws: Depending on the state, there may be regulations preventing utility companies from disconnecting essential services depending on the time of the year. For example, a heating company may not be allow to disconnect a household during the winter months. Additional protection by the government is also extended to households with disabled, children, and seniors. These laws do vary from state to state, so you will need to look into exactly how you are protected. While this is NOT a real solution, it can bring a bit of peace on mind knowing you won’t be shut off from heating or electricity and face death because of it.
      • Government Telephone and Internet Assistance: It’s possible to get assistance paying for telephone or internet connection bills. Often the assistance is bundled together with other utility programs like energy, water, or heating assistance. So often the funds, if you are given any, can be applied to your telecommunications bill. There are two major government programs that offer telephone and internet assistance: Lifeline and Link-up.
      1. Lifeline: Households facing financial difficult are given up to a fifteen dollar discount on their telephone bill. It’s not much perhaps, but if you choose the most basic phone plane, it will cover most of the costs.
      2. Link-up: This program helps with the installation of a new landline telephone in your residence, covering up to fifty dollars of the cost.